I requested this from Netgalley because of one bit from the description: “this gorgeous fantasy in the spirit of Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin McKinley”. If you’re going to say that, and live up to it, then it’s going to be amazing. (Also, Guy Gavriel Kay and Robin McKinley have very little in common apart from being … amazing, so I’m dying to see what constitutes a cross between them.)
If you are going to say that and not live up to it … I will eviscerate the book in question. Slowly. In print, of course.
But no. I think I get it. There is a certain scope and range to the story which is not unlike GGK, and a certain facility with the language which, if you squint, resembles Robin McKinley. But I wish, I really do wish, that publishers or whoever it is who puts out blurbs like that would realize that they are far more likely to be doing their authors a disservice than helping them. Because I went into this book – heck, I requested this book – with a light in my eye like “Oh, yeah? Prove it. A lot.”
And while I still can’t say I approve of using two of my favorite writers in the blurb, it didn’t take all that long for me to let it go and just enjoy the book. Because it really is a solid, unique book with lovely, lovely writing. I required it to be nothing less than amazing, and it was.
The characters are alive, well-rounded and very much themselves, just about always responding to situations in ways that I didn’t expect, but which were perfectly in keeping with the way they were built. It would have been very easy for the young princess Oressa to become a cliché of a trousers-wearing, I’m-not-going-to-behave-like-a-proper-princess rebel – and she did not. She is wonderful.
And so are her brother Gulien and the invading prince Gajdosik (who has such good reasons to invade). They all kept surprising me, they grew through the story, and they won my heart.
I read this not quite in one sitting, but not for lack of trying. The main reason is that it took me a little while to figure it out (and, I’ll admit, to get past my prejudices), but once I was sucked in I was solidly in the author’s world. It’s a remarkable invention – magic used like I’ve never seen it used before, capricious gods (or are they?), perilous artifacts – it’s deep, and wide, and hopefully has plenty of room for lots more stories.
As I mentioned, one point of commonality Ms. Neumeier has with, say, Robin McKinley is an easy grace with the language (easy-seeming – I’m sure the seeming is achieved with blood and sweat and tears) that is one reason why I read fantasy. She does not indulge in the villain’s point of view to save herself the trouble of explaining his motives; she does not ever let a character take the figurative microphone and blether on in endless infodumping. She does not choose to simply say “he was exhausted and in pain”, but shows it: “He lounged in his chair, feet up on a small table and crossed at the ankles, head tilted back against the cushions, eyes mostly closed. He would have managed to look comfortable, except that he was also ashen pale. There were dark shadows under his eyes and lines at the corners of his mouth that Oressa was almost sure hadn’t been there even a day ago.” See, kids? That’s what the old writing advice means. And the author knows how to avoid Reality Show Recapitis, in which what happened just five minutes ago is retold for the benefit of some character who wasn’t there, although I the reader very much was. “‘I believe we would appreciate the long version, eventually,’ murmured Gajdosik”, she writes, and my note was “Oh, bless”, because so many (lesser) writers would have felt the need to remind their short-term-memory-lacking audience of everything they read a chapter or two ago.
It just struck me that I can myself add another writer to the short list that nobody else really ought to be compared to, but to whom I am, to my own surprise, going to draw a comparison… Dorothy L. Sayers. There is an air of Peter and Bunter about Oressa and Gulien, with Oressa piffling away and only to the patient and observant revealing her actual level of intelligence, and Gulien solidly and stolidly moving forward whatever the obstacles. (Of course, Peter’s piffle is usually an intentional defense mechanism, and Oressa just can’t be bothered to straighten out the tangles before she speaks, but the resemblance still struck me.)
One book does not a Very Favorite Author make, but somewhere in packing boxes I apparently own two other books by Ms. Neumeier. Now I need to go find them. And I can’t wait to see if there will be more from Carastind.
I just hope no one does her the disservice of comparing her to Tolkien.
Favorite line, which won’t mean much out of context but which twisted my heart a little in: “Don’t talk,” Oressa said quickly. “Please, don’t. Look, I’ll do both parts.”
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review, with thanks.