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Monday, June 11, 2012

The Returning by Christine Hinwood

For Cam Attling, the war is both an ending and a beginning.  An intense story of love, loss and turmoil in the aftermath of war. A first novel by a uniquely talented author.

Vivid, compassionate and totally absorbing, The Returning follows the fortunes of young Cam Attling and all those whose fates entwine with his.

Cam has a hunger, an always-hunger; it drives him from home, to war, from north to south. When he returns from war alone - all his fellow soldiers slain - suspicion swirls around him. He's damaged in body and soul, yet he rides a fine horse and speaks well of his foes. What has he witnessed? Where does his true allegiance lie? How will life unfold for his little sister, his closest friend, his betrothed, his community, and even the enemy Lord who maimed him?

With extraordinary insight and literary skill, Hinwood weaves their stories to create a tale of romance, adventure and everyday life in croft and manor house and castle. Her style is unique. Her characters will hijack your heart.

Released: April 14, 2011 (first published as Bloodflower, June 2009, in Australia)          
Pages: 302
Publisher: Dial            Source: Library

The Australian cover.  It took me forever to
 figure out that the arm wasn't
 just some weird disconnected
limb lying on a table somewhere.
First Look: ***** I had heard both good and bad things about this book.  The pitch alone probably wouldn't have lured me in, but I have a hard time resisting can't possibly turn down fantasy novels with horses on the cover.  I'm weird that way.

Setting: ***** It was okay.  I don't have any strong feelings about it one way or the other.  It didn't play a huge role in the book, but I might've enjoyed it more if I had been given a few more details so I could attempt to immerse myself in the setting.

Characters: ***** The characters were very well-developed.  Each showed many different sides to themselves, and I could clearly see and understand their motivations.  Cam's feelings and reactions were believable, and I felt for him.  I felt his longing, his uncertainty of what to do with his life after the war.

Other characters, too, were likable and realistic.  I especially liked Pin, Cam's little sister, and also Graceful, Cam's betrothed.  Gyaar also made an interesting character, and his inner conflicts made the book more interesting.

Plot: ***** This is the aspect of the book that gives me mixed feelings.  It's the main reason why I didn't give it four stars.  The first half to three quarters of this book were slow.  Very, very slow.  There really wasn't much plot at all.  We were given interesting characters to read about, but they never did anything.  There wasn't much in the way of conflict. 

It finally picked up in the last part of the book, but it took too long to get there.  If more had happened at the beginning, I would have liked this a lot more.  The plot towards the end was compelling, but it didn't get there fast enough.  And it's entirely possible that I felt the plot was more compelling than I usually would have, just because I was bored and desperate for conflict. 

Uniqueness: *****
I've never before read a fantasy book that focused on the events after the war, rather than during it.  That aspect of it was unique.

Writing: ***** There was some awkward phrasing scattered throughout the book.  I think some of that might have been the characters' dialect, but I never could quite tell.  There's a fine line between having awkward wording and having characters with a unique way of speaking, and this book seemed to go more towards the awkward side, at least for me.  There were also a few times where I couldn't tell if the punctuation was wrong for a specific reason, or just because somebody messed up.   

Likes: This is neither a good or bad thing, but I'm seeing a few American Civil War parallels here. There's the same North vs. South conflict with Uplanders and Dowlanders, and a bunch of boys all eager to go to war but hardly any survive, etc. Or maybe I'm just overthinking it, especially since it is an Australian book.

Not-so-great: I wish the horse would've had a bigger part in the story. 

I felt bad for Pin when she got her first period.  How awful, to spend that day with a celebration.  Yeah, parties to honor womanhood are nice, but the poor girl was in pain.  I can understand why she was grumpy with everyone.

Overall: This was an okay book.  The character development was very interesting, and the entire book had a unique premise.  The writing was a bit awkward, though, and the first half to three quarters of the book had very little in terms of plot and conflict.  If it looks interesting, I'd give it a try, but otherwise I wouldn't go out of your way to pick up this one.
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