||A very good book, which is written in
a way that makes it feel epic, yet for all the character work, there is
very little growth.
complaint about this book is that the characters are simply shoved in
the direction that the events in the plot wish them to go. Even the
people who would normally make their own way in the world, like Aspar
White, are simply driven by the plot, wherever they are to go. Most of
the characters felt like that; they were simply there to people the
world, not to affect it. The people who make history happen were mostly
There were some exceptions, of course.
Stephen has at least learned to be less naive. When Aspar rescued him
from the bandits in the woods, he was ready to believe anything, even if
it wasn't sanctioned by the church. At least by walking the faneway he
gained some sense of how the real world acts. Unfortunately, he doesn't
end up any smarter by the end of the book. Cazio has learned that he is
not actually invincible. Going up against the knights in armor showed
him that what his instructor said was true: you couldn't get a blade
past that armor! I am not certain that Neil learned anything through the
course of the book, except that being a knight is more complicated than
he thought it was going to be.
Anne was the biggest disappointment in
this book. She was carefree, and although completely lovable, didn't
think the rules applied to her, especially the rules of court. When her
mother sent her to the coven, and she kept acting like a spoiled brat
-all haughty because she was a princess, I thought she would learn some
hard lessons. I figured she would at least learn how to rule.
Unfortunately, when she was sent into the pit for bad behavior, she
managed to find a way out, and thus learned nothing. Apparently she
learned some magic at the coven, but even she doesn't know how she
managed it. It becomes less satisfying for the reader. Presumably some
of these things will be fixed in the second or third books, but they are
frustrating at the moment.
However, the book is still quite enjoyable.
It is interesting that while none of the characters know what is going
on at the beginning of the book, they are just as clueless at the end! I
don't remember reading a book like that before. I also thought, at one
point, that nearly every single main character would end up dead by the
end. That would have been different, but it didn't happen. A huge number
of supporting characters also end up dead.
The characters can almost be introduced
independently of the plot, because of the way the book flows. Actually,
the characters can be described by their plots, which are mostly
Aspar White is a ranger of the King's
Forest. He and the woman he eventually falls in love with, Winna, chase
a greffyn (previously thought to be mythical) around the forest. The
greffyn kills everything it touches, and sickens every living thing that
keeps its gaze, except for Stephen. Through their travels, we learn a lot about the world as
it is, and about another race called the Sefry, who abhor sunlight.
Eventually they find the Briar King, which drives Aspar mad for a few
Stephen is a priest who understands
language and knowledge. He helps Aspar out of his madness, and learns
that another priest, who was given to tormenting the others in the
monastery, is in league with the greffyn. Together, they save the
Queen's life by stopping a body-snatching ritual, which would have taken
over the Queen's main bodyguard. He seems to be unaware of the prophecy
that states that a Queen must sit on the throne when the Briar King
arrives, though there is no explanation as to why that is necessary.
Indeed, the Briar King leaves the Queen untouched when he arrives, and
saves Aspar from the poison of the greffyn.
King William rules the empire of
Crotheny, with the help from his duplicitous brother, Robert. It was
clear from early on that Robert was trying to usurp the throne by giving
the King false information, but it was sickening to see how far he would
go, killing his twin sister and using her as an example to start a war.
I wonder, though, if William was thrown from a cliff into the sea, how
did anybody see that he was pierced with Lierish arrows? I believe it is
Robert who, when we thought he was dead, actually survived in the last
pages of the book.
Anne is princess to the throne, but
being the youngest, has no aspirations of anything from the court. But
she doesn't understand the privilege of her position in the world. She
is forced to separate from her first love, Roderick, and sent to a coven
in order to learn the art of assassination. Unfortunately, we don't know
what she learned, because it seems that this is merely a device to get
Anne away from the rest of the royal family. I really thought that her
handmaiden, Austra, would be better suited to the tasks, but she
apparently wasn't even permitted to learn anything at all!
When the men who are trying to gain
immortality from the Briar King (as I understand it) storm the coven and
kill all the sisters, Anne and Austra are helped out by Cazio, whom I
was sure was to be Anne's next love interest. Although she denies it,
she is rather infatuated with Cazio. That makes her fall for every man
(both of them) who courts her. I liked Cazio a lot, especially his lack
of humility, which made him a very funny character. He is good at sword
fighting, the honorable kind, not broadswords, and he knows it.
Neil MeqVren seems to be the only
person in these lands who knows the meaning of honor and virtue. After
saving the Queen, he becomes her personal bodyguard. He holds duty above
all else, which makes for a disappointing love story between him and the
already-married princess Fastia. Although his sections were short,
especially at the beginning of the book, I think they were my favorites.
When the men and greffyn come to kill the Queen and her family, Neil
puts up a heroic fight, and goes into some sort of magical rage to save
his charge, even though Fastia and princess Elseny are killed.
The lands are described, in look and
culture, like Europe. Crotheny is probably England, with the Lierish
islands as France or Scotland, where MeqVren is from, for example.
Vitellio is obviously Italy, with its vineyards, fencing, and swaggering
I don't pretend to understand what is
going on in the big picture, but it was an interesting read,
nonetheless. Some characters seem to know what is about to happen, but
we are not privy to their thoughts. Clearly some of the sisters at the
coven understood why Anne had to survive, yet nobody told the royal
family about it, or about why it was happening. The future of humanity
seems to be hanging on the likelihood of a Queen sitting on the throne
of Crotheny. As the book closes, the mentally-challenged son of the
King, Charles, is now Emperor. His mother rules from behind him, but
that can't last long, especially if Robert is alive.
The end of humanity seems to be the
result of a Queen using forbidden magic to end the enslavement of the
race at the hands of the Skasloi, which was wiped out in the process,
except for one, which lives at the time of this book, 2000 years later.
There is a price to pay for that magic, apparently, and the time is due
to pay it.
Being written in an epic fashion like
it is, it made it more difficult to read until I got used to the style.
It took me a long time to get into the story because of that. However, I
think it is worth the read, as the story itself is interesting, even if
the characters simply go with the flow of the plot, rarely affecting it.
I hope we get some of this cleared up in the rest of the trilogy. One of
the things that I did like about the writing is the way the readers were
not given any special information about the culture. We had to learn was
a faneway was on our own, as references were made to it. There were many
unfamiliar words, which were never explicitly defined, but could be
reasoned out by their use. I like that kind of storytelling, though the
writing could have been easier.