By S.D. Tower
I really wanted to like this book, no, I wanted to love it. It’s that rara avis, a single-volume fantasy book, set in a world of its own, not a bastardized Ye Olde or Ye Nowadaisy England. The world building is of a high order, better than mine. There are hints of China, but also of India, and many, many details that are quite unique, such as the names of plants and animals, many aspects of culture (such as the particular kind of ancestor worship) and religion.
The names are lovely: Lale, Tsunane, Kidrin — in the beginning of the book there’s attention to linguistic games, where we’re told Lale is a pun in the native language of the girl.
The plot is convoluted, and better carried through than in many Guy Gavriel Kay novels. The psychological insight is quite okay. Character development — very good, given the scope of this book. Exciting love interest, too, with a delightful bed-scene.
But somehow, the book is flat. Where an attempt is made at evocative language, the writing seldom reaches the heights at which it aspires, and degenerates in plodding lists of nouns, thankfully short lists. The book is told by the main character who looks back at her long and successful life, and frequently gives explicit asides. And this is done very well: the tone is right for this kind of person. The problem is, she already knows what was going to happen, and she is slightly amused and somewhat bemused at our interest. And maybe she’s just not much of a raconteur… Her story, with all its exciting details and all the world-building just never grows into a compelling page-turner. It was all too easy to put the book aside for something else.
A pity… But I would still by other books in this setting, just for the world-building.
PS: First time I used Krita to prepare the cover pic! I still need a crop tool, and then I can do everything with Krita I used to use xv or the Gimp for. (I’m no power-user)