Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Book Review: Mette Ivie Harrison's The Rose Throne

The Rose Throne (The Rose Throne, #1)It has taken me weeks now to coalesce the thoughts in my head about this book. In fact, they are probably still scattered, but since some time devoted to the review is better than none (which is what I was doing, because I wanted the review to be just right), I’m just going to jump in.

This novel read, for me, very differently from Harrison’s other books I’m most familiar with (The Princess and the Hound series). The other books were more lyrical. This one was straightforward, direct, almost sparse. Unexpected, and it took me some time to get used to it. For some reason I’m sure someone else could analyze, I want to say it felt “German” (understand, please, that I have no reasonable explanation for why I say this; for the same reason I think lime smells like heaven, I suppose—which is to say, just because).

The princesses, too, took some time to get used to, but I liked them better for it. Ailsbet in particular was not your standard female character, far more reserved and almost passionless even as she spoke of things about which she was passionate. At first I found it off-putting, because I tend to be far more emotional—but then it became refreshing, freeing almost, to see through the eyes of someone who is not weepy and who does not overanalyze emotion. She just moves forward.

As far as the magic system goes, I am waiting to see. I loved Lissa’s use of it near the end. Brilliant. I wanted to high-five her, except that would be completely inappropriate to the world she is in. What I am not as jazzed about at the moment is the strong dichotomy of magics—but this is a personal thing, not a fault of the story. I just don’t like worlds in which the “manly” magic is a magic of death and pain. But, as I said, I’m waiting to see where it goes because—as is already apparently in some respects because of the ekhono (magic users who have the “wrong” kind of magic)—I suspect that there are going to be some twists and revelations regarding the true natures of the magics that will make me feel happier.

What I liked most, however, was the feeling that this book was part of something greater and more complex and more real. It’s fairly common for fantasy novels in particular to set up impossible choices and scenarios where it seems like the good guys can never win. But you know, after all, that actually everything is going to work out okay. (I should point out here that I read mostly YA, which is generally filled with that hope, which I do appreciate. I truly dislike the agony and suffering and darkness of some of the adult books I’ve read that, in my view, are utterly bleak—e.g., Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice stories, which were well written but made me feel utterly depressed, sucking so much life out of me that though the stories were intriguing I was too emotionally drained to ever want to approach them again.) Also, these stories tend to feel like there is sort of one correct way of fixing things—really only one choice to make that will make everything work out.

But what this novel did instead was set up a world in which the characters may (and actually do) have to choose between multiple good options. Or at least multiple equally bad options. And the choices may require giving up something they want or care about. I love this! Love love love. I love the sense of reality and difficulty—and to me it is actually in some ways more hopeful than the books where everything works out perfectly in the end. Because a book like this says, “Hey, guess what? Sometimes life is tough and we don’t get everything we want. But there’s no point in moping about it.” I think it says, instead, that there is still beauty and fulfillment and possibility to be found beyond the difficult choices. It says something important, though perhaps uncomfortable, about real life.

Caveat: I must clarify, however, that some of that is still to come. Hard choices have been made in this book, as well as sacrifices. And we have yet to see where they go, but I have a pretty good feeling that wherever they go is somewhere I will want to follow. I suppose it’s possible that the next book/s in the series will suddenly be horrible and depressing, but I find it much more likely that they will find hope and beauty (and can I also hope for some epic magicky awesomeness?) and probably some more uncomfortable truth.

One more note: Lots of people have apparently complained that the ending was sort of a cliffhanger. Strangely, that didn’t bother me much. Maybe because I felt like the smaller episode was concluded quite nicely, and also because I think the next episode is going to include some great stuff. So yes, I’m looking forward to the rest, but I don’t feel cheated by the ending of this one. Just be warned that some people did.

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