So, I will admit that after reading the Authors Note (in which McPhail tries to explain to the reader how to read the book and made me wince) and the Forward (which talked a lot about eye colour, yes they are blue, I get it. And a slinky woman awaiting the Lord’s ‘needs’ made me cringe), I was slightly apprehensive on embarking on this journey. However as soon as the first chapter began, it was like McPhail had tapped a whole new keg of ale and this one, instead of being flat and slightly stale, was bursting with effervescence and heady flavour. It flowed like nothing I have read recently, and seriously made me think about lowering the ratings of other books, just so this one stood out as being an exception amongst the many.
There are a hoarde of characters, races, religions, magic and intrigues to wrap your head around, but it becomes quite easy to delineate once you are pulled along with the characters and their quests. What makes it so engaging is that the characters know about as much about the world as you do, and you learn as they do, which is somewhat inspired (plus if you get the kindle editions, some of the races etc. are linked to a glossary if you are too impatient to wait for the characters to gain the knowledge along the way). Although it is epic fantasy, and it doesn’t stray to far from the genre, you can never really rely on the old good/evil character tropes of old. Sometimes who you thought were the upstanding or the dirty dirty characters, are not all that meets the eye. Even by the finale, you are still not sure what side you should be barracking (rooting) for, which is an absolutely genius way to get you to slide right into the next book in the series (Dagger of Adendidaeth). And to be utterly honest, that’s exactly what I will be doing. Lucky I am reading them after all the books in the series have been published, or I’d be foaming at the mouth.
I was really fascinated by the two lead characters Ean and Trell. They are diametrically opposed in their ways of gaining knowledge and insight. Ean, the rash young prince wants to know now, now, NOW, bugger the consequences, whilst Tell who knows nothing of who he is (ah the old amnesia trick), is willing to forgo everything except his sense of honour so he can learn through his journey. Which frankly made me irritated with both of them, but not in the ‘ye gods, why the hell?’ type of way, but in the ‘I love you both, and this isn’t healthy’ type of way. I was so concerned for both of them, which demonstrates how McPhail can convey her characters with a sense of depth ad emotion that engages the reader to no end. Even when you don’t necessarily like the characters, you still get a sense of why the characters are the way they are, not just they are because they are, which is where the brilliance lies.
The only thing that grated on me slightly was the reliance on world building around real world countries and stereotypes. French, English, Scandinavian, The Middle East and suchlike (with funky new names of course!) are quite bluntly planted within the realm. It is really the flows of magic and the Wildlings (or ‘magical’ creatures) in the novel which break the mould and stop it from being a simple trounce around a historic feeling Earth.
Two actually things actually! The names. I understand you need to get a bit fancy to show just how foreign some of the Wildlings are compared to humans, but sometimes remembering who Dha’bu’balaji’sridanai is, as opposed to Srivas’rhaka’rakek can be a bit unwieldy when you are trying to connect names with characters, especially when there are so so many to try and keep track of. Sometimes they are known by two names, which can get a bit crazy if you don’t have the Dramatis Personae handy. I usually abhor books that make you rely on DP’s, but I was willing to overlook it in this novels case however, because it was simply worth it. That is a testament to how fantastic this book actually is in my opinion. Even The Song of Ice and Fire series makes me want to throw things, but this didn’t.
The Kindle editions x-ray feature was sometimes a bit off the mark. Looking up what a nymphae was explained that it is a term for the labia minora. Interesting if the characters were indeed walking vaginas I suppose!
I could give a synopsis, but in the end, you have to just go with it. Anything I say to try and explain it will simply not do it justice. Plus, that’s why we have Goodreads or wherever your allegiances lie.
All in all, it was the cheapest ($2.59), longest (659 pages) but most enthralling fantasy I have read for a while, and I read a lot of fantasy. If this wasn’t indie published, it’d be up there with the greats. Honestly.