Behold! Even though it’s term time, I managed to finish two books in the last week! Mini reviews up ahead.
Green Rider – Kristen Britain
The Curse of Chalion – Lois McMaster Bujold
Green Rider by Kristen Britain
I originally picked this up in a spree in Blackwells, just because I was browsing the sci-fi/fantasy section and this book was so, so pretty! Just look at it! It’s taken me over a year to get to this; I think I bought it early in second year.
Karigan G’ladheon always seemed to be getting into a fight, and today was no exception. But as she trudged through the forest, using her long walk home to contemplate her depressing future, a horse burst through the woodland and charged straight for her. The rider was slumped over his mount’s neck with two arrows embedded in his back. Wherever his horse was taking him, he would be dead long before they got there… Karigan may be unable to save him, but she can swear to complete his final quest… [excerpt from blurb]
Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to the gorgeous cover. It’s a sweet story, yes, but I’m still not sure if it was intended to be a YA fantasy or not (Goodreads and Wikipedia haven’t enlightened me!). I really don’t think that being YA fantasy is a bad thing – I loved Graceling and Poison Study recently, to name a couple – but Green Rider felt quite childish in its plot developments. I never really felt connected to Karigan, so it failed for me as a character-driven novel, but there was such light information about the Green Riders that it didn’t draw me in with the setting either. I felt the world was very lightly sketched, and no development had been done outside Karigan’s immediate situation – while I hate info-dumps on the magic system/the current king/etc, there are so many ways that the reader can learn about a world through the journeys of the characters.
I did enjoy Green Rider: it was a nice little fantasy. But it didn’t live up to expectations, nor to its more grown-up cover.
The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
I was lent this by a friend, as a good place to get started with one of his favourite authors. As with Green Rider, I enjoyed it for what it was, but I couldn’t help but compare it unfavourably to Robin Hobb and Brandon Sanderson – and believe me, in that company, it definitely comes off quite shabbily.
Lord Cazaril has been in turn courtier, castle-warder and captain; now he is but a crippled ex-galley slave seeking nothing more than a menial job in the kitchens of the Dowager Provincara, the noble patroness of his youth. But Cazaril finds himself promote to the exalted and dangerous position of secretary-tutor to Iselle, the beautiful, fiery sister of the heir to Chalion’s throne… [excerpt from blurb]
This is a fantasy focused more on court intrigue and religion than on traditional magic, which was very interesting. Unfortunately, the intrigue wasn’t enormously intriguing – I found myself hating the wilful, beautiful princess Iselle, simply because she was intended as nothing but “Wow, a feisty, sensible princess who eventually solves all the problems of the kingdom and never has to deal with being sold off into an advantageous marriage, because she marries for love and peace. Yay, feminism!” I just felt like she was so untouchable as to be unbelievable.
This book reminded me enormously of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson, which I’m going to lend to said friend in return, if he hasn’t read it. Now there is an instrumental princess, wrapped up in court intrigue and religion, who seems real. She is used as a pawn, forced into contact with destiny and the gods, and never manages to lose her humanity – but she struggles, instead of birds helping her get dressed in the morning.
Cazaril himself, the main character, I had no real objections to, but I didn’t find him as compelling as he could have been. He, too, had a sort of overcoming-struggles-to-be-the-chosen-one storyline, which apart from being predictable, he managed not to really react to. I think that maybe I just don’t click with the author’s style of characterisation, because I just found everyone a bit Stoic and samey. I like some grit and some crushing despair in my chosen ones. Otherwise it’s just wish fulfilment.
Another pet hate: renaming court positions for no real reason. I didn’t like ‘ser’ in ASOIAF, and I don’t like ‘roya, royina, royse, royesse’ here. They are exactly the same as ‘king, queen, prince, princess’, so why bother renaming them? If you’ve invented a new hierarchy, brilliant. If not, you just sound like you’re trying too hard to exoticise your setting.
Well, that review sounds a little harsher than I intended. I did enjoy this. I’m just baffled as to how it can be held in competition with the masters of the genre (Rothfuss, finish The Doors of Stone!), when it would be much happier next to Eddings and Lackey. Lovely, but not as deep as it thinks it is.
If you’ve read either of these, what did you think? What’s your favourite fantasy novel?