Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Queen's Hunt (River of Souls #2) by Beth Bernobich #review

Title: Queen’s Hunt (River of Souls #2)
Author: Beth Bernobich
Publisher: Tor Books, 2012

Beth Bernobich is one of those authors for whom I’ve developed a serious case of instaluv – so I’m compulsively working my way through her books as and when my reading schedule allows. What I adore about her writing is that she’s unhurried, focusing on the relationships between people and also developing whole characters who not only love, but also maintain interests and aspirations. These elements, of course, get derailed by events not always under their control, which keeps me turning those pages.

In book #1, Passion Play, we are introduced to Ilse, who has run away from an arranged marriage and by happy fortune ended up in the employ of Raul Kosenmark, who is unofficially a noble spymaster who rules a shadow court behind the respectable façade of his pleasure house.

In the first book, we are only privy to Ilse’s perspective as she falls in love with Raul, explores her latent magical talent, and becomes deeply involved in political intrigue. By book #2 we follow the tale from multiple points of view which, although took a little getting used to at first, definitely broadens the perspective and in hindsight was quite necessary.

The story as it stands, tells us that war loom between nations, and a despotic ruler, Leos Dzavek, who has had an unnaturally long lifespan, seeks to find the missing Lir’s jewels in order to re-establish his power. This plot element recalls a little Tolkienesque buzz with the Silmarils, if anything, for those of you familiar with that particular McGuffin. Standing against Leos, we have three young people: Ilse, Valara and Miro, who discover a shared history in their past lives related to the jewels and their historical theft and their relationship with Leos.

Okay, that is the underlying spine of Queen’s Hunt – the search for the jewels and the eventual outcome that I’ll not share because, yeah. SPOILERS.

Valara is a queen in exile, who through a quirk of fate ends up in the company of Ilse, who’s gone into self-imposed exile in order to protect Raul, and then a cast of secondary viewpoint characters who all play integral parts to the plot. We even pop into Raul’s head a few times, which is lovely.

Each character has his or her smaller story arc, so I can best describe this saga as a gradual unfolding or unravelling of a massive tapestry, of which we, as readers, only see small parts of the larger pattern.

Bernobich is concerned with texture, sensation and colour. Her writing is visceral and rewards the patient reader. What I especially love is that she doesn’t explain everything, all at once, for which I am very grateful. There’s nothing worse than plodding through reams of exposition – a sometimes unavoidable aspect of fantasy.

Granted, there were a few key moments in Queen’s Hunt where the pacing went a bit quick for my liking, and I felt as if Bernobich glossed over the action in important sequences where I personally needed a little depth in the layering department, but these were few. It would have helped then to have a better understanding of the characters’ motivations, but this is a minor quibble on my part and could possibly also be written off to individual taste.

More than anything, I’d like to underscore how real the characters and the setting feels to me. People don’t achieve what they want. Things go wrong, sometimes catastrophically so. They then have to deal with the repercussions of their actions – and they pay for it, sometimes with their lives.

Bernobich effortlessly sweeps me away into her setting where myth, magic and courtly intrigue are the order of the day, with refreshingly non-Eurocentric set dressing. (There are no blond, blue-eyed gallant knights, in other words.) I can’t wait to pick up book #3, Allegiance, and I’m certain there are many more surprises in store.

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