Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date Read: December 26, 2016 to January 12, 2017
Ever have a moment or several when you’re looking for something new to read and all you see are the same old stories and arcs being retold in
marginally barely noticeable slightly different ways? That all you’re seeing is just the same stuff over and over again? I’ve been feeling that way for some time now, and I admit I’m more than fed up with fantasy’s preference for young protagonists and their foolhardy ways–not referring to just YA, I mean the majority of genre fiction. Every time I visit a bookstore, there’s a ton of coming of age stories, new and old, starring a special teenager or twenty-something or a group of them, and they’re always varying shades of stupid foolish, and it gets to a point where I’m like… get the hell off my lawn. Seriously. All of you. Gtfo.
Then this book came along at the right time and reminded me that, if I wanted to find books that actually interest me, that mean something to me, I had to look harder and dig deeper. The kind of stories I’m looking for are out there, they’re just buried under piles and piles of sh–stuff I can’t stand. And they’re most likely out of print or have been for decades now. So now, I’m gonna make an effort to look harder for lesser known genre fiction and dig ’em out.
Another thing that made this book the perfect read at the time I picked it up was its unconventional setting–reminiscent of ancient South Asia, most likely India–and its unconventional cast of characters–all of them older and world-weary and all have lived experience and sketchy pasts. It was refreshing to read about characters that have lived and lost and lived on to fight another day. And it was good to see that world-altering stories and callings don’t just happen to the young and “special.”
Maskelle used to be a priestess of the highest order in the city of Duvalpore, but then she had a falling out with the royal family and was banished from the city. It’s been years since her exile, and at the start of the book, she’s making her way back as a favor to an elderly priest to help solve a problem with an ancient rite/ritual that the city performs every century. Unsure of her welcome and the new political leanings within the city, she arrives quietly, meaning to stay out of people’s way, but then she finds evidence of sabotage that could ruin the ancient rite and destroy the world. Figuring out who or what is behind it takes up the rest of the book.
It’s an interesting mystery and I’m in awe of Martha Wells’ world building and plotting prowess, particularly how much she achieves in so few words. Her sense of world building is unique and succinct, and her prose concise. All scenes and dialogue are necessary and have purpose. I never get the sense I’m reading a meandering plot or pointless characterization or manufactured drama.
Although the stakes are high for Maskelle, there’s an unexpected humorous undertone running through the story that I really like. It keeps it from being completely downtrodden. And while there are serious moments, like the ending serving as a moment of reckoning no one saw coming, much of the story is wry, funny, and easy to read. Maskelle and her endearing ragtag companions run into and/or trip over trouble wherever they go. I would have liked to read more about their time on the road and in the city because it’s just shy of slapstick comedy.
Overall, this was a satisfying read and a good mix of fantasy and otherworldliness, but I already knew that going in because it’s by Martha Wells.
The reaction was more violent than she had anticipated. The counterweight smashed right through the floorboards, knocking her backwards. The arm swung and toppled, taking the railing, part of the gallery, and a dozen yelling rivermen with it.
“I meant to do that,” Maskelle muttered to herself, stumbling to her feet.
“So, there’s no chance of just stopping and drowning here, say?”
“No, I think we’ll keep moving for now and drown a little further up the road.”
“I suppose attempts on the Throne happen more often in the Sintane?”
“The Holder Lord executed two brothers, a sister, and a cousin for trying to take the Markand Hold, just in the time I was there, and that was a slow year.”
Maybe I’m too told for this, she thought. Too old for war, too mean-tempered for peace.