Brief Synopsis: A prince, having survived being on the losing side in a civil war, tries to avoid assassination. An unrelated princess joins an order of wizards to avoid assassination by her power-consolidating brother. They meet up, and are embroiled in a plan by an evil sorcerer to foment chaos and war in their lands so he can conqueror them easily after they’re exhausted.
Book Review: Not a bad book. It has some stunning imagery, really very well-worked scenes. And Elizabeth Bear is quite creative, introducing many fantastic concepts that are a pleasure to immerse yourself in. A cosmology that changes based on the beliefs of the peoples ruling an area? How cool is that? About 10,000 times cooler when it’s revealed that a city being conquered will change what happens in the sky above it, and people travelling to it can tell it’s changed hands by that! Unfortunately the writing is rather haphazard. We seem to dash from one plot point to another without much reason for going there, aside from “Well, this is where the next plot event happens”. There are a few plot holes which may be patched over in subsequent books (this is the first in a series), but they still irritate the mind. Worst for me – I just couldn’t relate to the characters. Their motivations seemed imposed on them by authorial fiat, rather than natural desires. So not a great book, but I can’t tell anyone to avoid it, because it really isn’t bad either. It’s right about the middle. However if I was asked to recommend a good fantasy novel written recently, this wouldn’t come to mind so… Not Recommended.
Book Club Review: That being said, this teetering on the edge of good actually makes for interesting discussion, because different people like and dislike different things about it. There were several people in our book club who thought this was a strong book most of the way through, and the disagreements between what was believable and what was strained made for some good talking. This branched into discussion over what makes believable characters, and what can be overlooked for the sake of moving a story forward. It isn’t emotional disagreement about politics or the meaning of life, but it is grist for the mill. I find myself in the position of saying that while I wouldn’t read this book on my own, it makes for a pretty good group-discussion book. Recommended.