As I prepare to embark on a novel-writing adventure, I should tell you about my recent novel-reading adventure. And by “adventure” I mean “week-long slog.”
So there’s this castle near the barrier/border between the lands of normal folks and the lands of the fairie-folk. The king’s been kidnapped, and through a series of circumstances power is thrust into the hands of twin royal siblings, Barrick and Briony. One’s a petulant, moody sort with a weak constitution. The other’s a hot-tempered, moody sort with a yen for crossdressing. There are other characters (and charicatures) running around, but the story centers on those two. Oh, and a halfling— um, Funderling named Chert. And… oh, nevermind. I’m not here to run through the list of principal characters who inhabit Southmarch. We’d be here all afternoon.
Meanwhile, a continent or so away, we meet a young lady who gets sucked up into palace intrigue as the newest of a horde of wives of a pharaonic despot sort of ruler. Periodically the book takes little side trips to check on her miserable existence. One assumes that in later volumes she’ll become, you know, important or some-such.
I’ll sum up: Lots of bad things happen. In fact, very few good things happen. People die, often in creepy and/or grisly fashion. Betrayals and intrigue abound. Dark magicks are employed. There’s not much in the way of humor, and there’s an incredible weight of plot setup that, one again assumes, will pay off in the later books. There’s no cliffhanger ending (though until the last few chapters I was convinced there would be), and in fact this book manages to end satisfactorily instead of just abruptly cutting off. Mind you, it’s one of those “now all the pieces are in motion for the next volume” endings, but it could’ve been worse.
Did I enjoy it? Well enough to keep reading it every night or so, but when I hit the end I was relieved rather than antsy for the next book. That’s not what we call “a good sign.” Oh, it’s well written, and the characters are fairly well fleshed out, and at the end I got the feeling that the plot from there on out will be rather interesting… but getting to that point took some doing. “Tedious” is one word that comes to mind.
Your mileage may vary, but my basic recommendation is to wait for it in paperback and pick it up only if you’re committed to the fantasy genre and really need a complex bit of work to sink your teeth into.