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This has been my most difficult critique thus far. “Why?” you ask. Because I’ve not read a piece that its component parts were such odds with one another. I think I may have mentioned in the past that I’m not fond of high fantasy but this story I loved. The character Huw, and for that matter all of the characters around him, were a delight and had their own voice. The world and politics were plausible. The prose were for the most part good. But oh, my heavens the continuity issues. And the horrific info dumps. Please keep in mind that the good obviously outweighed the bad as I finished! I do suggest you slog your way through the bad parts as the good really does make it all worthwhile.
This fantasy novel revolves around the precocious, talented bard and son of the leader of the bard’s guild, Huw. He is an adult who really is still an overgrown adolescent that hasn’t planned for anything but the straight and easy path in life with his natural talent. Then the powers that be hang his father, burn down the entire bard’s hall, and seem to think that hunting bards or anyone that can sing a tune is the politically expedient thing. Huw finds himself on the run with no skills that he can show for fear of the sword, or worse. The story is primarily the growth of Huw from a whining “Oh, woe is me” brat toward true adulthood with more than just a single skill set.
All of the characters in this book were perfectly written with a life of their own, from the knightly and somewhat daft Lackland, the young duchess raped repeatedly by her much older husband, the young man who had the stigma of liking other men, to the mercenary woman who shares her bed with Huw for one glorious night. Each was its own art form that was alive on the page. I can’t commend Connie Jasperson highly enough for this ability to put it on the page!
The story itself is a breath of fresh air to me. A fantasy novel that isn’t about getting the super magical item before it can destroy the world or as the only way to kill the baddy that is about to eat the town. Very much appreciated a new twist on the “on the run” story line.
The prose were good and in places superb. I particularly like the line “… walls made from tree trunks sunk into the ground like so many giant fence posts set cheek-by-jowl.” Brilliant.
Not So Good
Let us start with the most obvious – info dumps. There were literally dozens of spots in the book where the story just came to a standstill while the author dumped two pages of the world’s history. Worse, some of the info-dump wasn’t even important, didn’t flavor the story, it just interrupted things. Most of the key stuff could have been handled with simple notes, or one quick paragraph here and there interspersed with the story better to make it part of the flow instead of a dam. The one that made me just about drop the book in disgust was when, 7/8th the way through the book the author finally explained the origins of the bards. Granted at least it was done in dialogue but the information deserved to be near the front to give context to some of what Huw had to deal with.
I’ll tell you one thing that will drive an engineer crazy is having serious continuity flaws and I found several. Huw has a medieval culture with no modern communication yet news seemed to travel faster than the speed of light. In one case, someone learned and talked about something that couldn’t have even have happened yet. Or that one of the minor characters seemed to be able to stop time. He moved in the opposite direction of Huw by several weeks travel, staged an assassination in a culture he knew nothing about, and still beat the bard to his destination yet to do so would have had to pass Huw on the roads. I was stunned. In the same vein, there were skills Huw picked up that aren’t quite as easy as the book portrays. If you are just reading for enjoyment you may not have noticed these gaffs.