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Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Poison Throne (The Moorehawke Trilogy #1) by Celine Kiernan

A friend.  A father.  A kingdom.  Which would you sacrifice?

Wynter returns from a five-year exile in the bleak Northlands to find her beloved homeland in turmoil. King Jonathan's civilised, multicultural realm is no more; the gibbets and cages have returned. Days of laughter, friendly ghosts and gossipy cats remain only in Wynter's memory - the present confronts her with power play, dark torture chambers, violent ghosts, and cats (those still alive) too scared to talk to humans. The Inquisition is a real and present danger.

Crown Prince Alberon is missing. There are murmurings of a 'Bloody Machine' of untold destructive power. And as Wynter and her friends, Prince Razi and the mysterious Christopher Garron, seek to restore stability to the fragile kingdom, risking death at every turn, Wynter is forced to make a terrible choice.

Set in a fantastical medieval Europe, this is the first book in a compelling trilogy of court intrigue, adventure and romance. It draws the reader in from the very first sentence and doesn't loosen its grip until the last.

Released: September 8th 2008       Pages: 512
Publisher: Orbit                             Source: Library

First Look: ***** I picked this up because it's a lesser-known high fantasy, and historically I've done well with those.  I'd just like to point out, though, that the main character, Wynter, is presumably the girl featured on the cover.  Wynter is described as being fifteen years old, with red hair.  That girl in the picture does not look fifteen to me, and she's not a redhead.  How hard is it to find a model that looks at least acceptably similar to the MC?

Setting: ***** What is this "historical fantasy" you speak of?  People keep shelving this as historical fantasy but it doesn't seem all that historical to me.  They mentioned real places at times, but to me it felt no more historical than the Ranger's Apprentice books, which pretty much use real places with made-up names.

My main problem, though, was that there was absolutely nothing memorable about it.  Could I feel the tension across the kingdom?  No, not really.  Apparently this place was starting to get uneasy but I never got that impression.

Characters: ***** I am incredibly divided about this.  On one hand, I didn't like Wynter.  I couldn't, because there wasn't anything to like.  She didn't do anything.  She was the main character, but she was a bystander.  She was content to let Christopher and Razi do everything as long as they placated her with a brotherly pat on the head (literally) every chapter or so.  I felt some emotion from her, but there was no depth, no personality.  At times she acted like she was a middle-aged woman, and at other times she acted like a six-year-old.  I couldn't stand her father--he made way too many sexist comments.  All geared towards his own daughter.  Seriously, Lorcan: man up and stop with the "Where is our breakfast, woman?" lines.  (That is not an exact quote because I couldn't find it, but trust me, the real quote is no less rude.) 

On the other hand, Christopher and Razi!  I loved them!  Each one was interesting, separately, but their relationship dynamic was awesome (I will admit that for awhile I totally thought they were "together").  Both of them had distinct personalities and complex motivations.  If I would've written this story, I would've ignored Wynter completely and made this into a dual POV between Chris and Razi.  I could tell there was a huge amount of backstory between them, and this book only scratched the surface.   

Plot: *****
I felt like this book was about a hundred pages too long and, like with the characters, focusing on all the wrong things.  So much of this plot was compelling--Razi's abrupt ascension to crown prince, Chris's story, the going-insane-but-maybe-not king, brewing rebellions...  And yet, the vast majority of "conflict" in this book was Wynter running around being depressed because "Lorcan's sick!  He's gonna die!  Just kidding, he's better!  No, he's not!  Yes he is!  No he's not!"  Each of the emotional Wynter/Lorcan scenes were drawn out longer than they needed to be, as in: "Look, everyone!  There's emotion here.  This is sad.  Are you sad yet?  BE SAD!"

Also, I don't understand what is going on with Alberon.  Apparently he loved the king and the king loved him, and he was generally well-liked throughout the kingdom.  Why was he suddenly disinherited?  It felt so random, to me, because I had no idea why it happened.  It made no sense.

Uniqueness: *****
It contained enough familiar elements to make fans of this genre feel right at home, but it also had enough of its own unique twists to stand out.

Writing: *****
Again, I'm divided.  There were some lines that I read twice just for the sheer poetic pleasure of them.  It had some truly beautiful moments, and right now I'm regretting returning my library copy, because now I wish I could share some of these lines with you.

On the other hand, there were some glaringly obvious typos.  One paragraph had more than one missed quotation mark and at least one misplaced punctuation mark, if I remember correctly.  It was bad.  I had to get out my pencil and fix them. 

Likes: Nothing not already mentioned.

Not-so-great: This book needs to come with a warning on it.  The back cover mentions the "Bloody Machine".  The king and Lorcan talk about it over and over, about how horrible it is and how it should've been destroyed but apparently wasn't.  It is highly dangerous and presumably puts the entire kingdom at risk.  When it was first mentioned, I was curious. 

But the book never, ever says what it actually is.  I kept waiting, and waiting, and whenever Lorcan mentioned it I hoped that this would finally be the time someone would finally tell me what it was.  But that never happened.  This was me, the entire time:*
You NEVER FIND OUT what the machine is.  It's so incredibly frustrating.  The author is needlessly drawing her readers out and promising an interesting reveal, but it's a false promise. 
Also, why does everyone have names like Wynter and Razi and Alberon, and then there's...Christopher?

Overall: This is an incredibly lengthy review.  Good grief.  Anyway, I don't know what to say about this book.  Christopher and Razi were awesome characters with interesting stories, but the MC, Wynter, was quite boring.  There were plot elements that were quite compelling, but others were drawn out and overdone.  It did have some truly lovely moments, all in all, but overall I have to give it three stars because my opinion is divided in half.  Also, it's super frustrating because you NEVER GET TO FIND OUT WHAT THE STUPID MACHINE IS.  Recommended?  I'm not even sure.  Make of this review what you will.

Similar Books: It had the court politics of Falling Kingdoms and Grave Mercy, and had a similar feel to Brightly Woven and The Cry of the Icemark (both of which feature main characters like Wynter Moorehawke).
*Can we all please just take a moment and look at his face right after he shouts?  It's like "RAGE...I am a monster after all."  It's like he's a bit afraid of the way he just lost control.  And then people wonder why he has so many fans.  This is why.  It's these tiny things that truly make the character. 

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