Okay, yes, I liked this book quite a bit, and yes, it was nice to read a fantasy novel. It’s just contemporary romances and other books with very familiar settings are so easy to get into when I’m really busy with my own projects.
This one was easy to get into, though, and not too overwhelmingly distracting, and quite good. Recognizably a Bradshaw, though I’m not sure I would have realized it was hers if I hadn’t known it up front.
Marin had never expected to be in the middle of the biggest magical crisis for two centuries. A peasant by birth, she was uncomfortable enough with her noble status as a Guardian, charged with policing the use of magic—even though her district, the White River, was a mere backwater. However, a renegade sorcerer in that same backwater district somehow obtained a supply of a notorious magical poison—the venom of a race of serpent-people who’d been believed extinct—and it’s up to Marin to stop him. It obviously won’t be easy: the last people to use that poison ended up ruling the world.
Have you read this? I want to ask something very elliptically in case you haven’t. If you’ve read this book, did you realize The Big Secret right from the beginning?
My take on The Big Secret went like this:
Meet a specific character for the first time. Almost immediately think: Hmm
Later, think: YES, FOR SURE.
Later, think: Oh, well, I guess not. Too bad! I would have totally put this plot twist in the story!
Almost immediately after that: Oh, how about that, I was right! How does Bradshaw justify this???
And then she semi-plausibly justifies it.
This was a neat twist, but what I wonder is, does everybody else suspect it almost immediately?
Now, real comments about the novel:
It took a while for me to actually get interested. For me, Marin is kind of a ho-hum protagonist. In fact, I never was that interested in Marin. She’s fine. Nice young woman, likes horses, sensible, but honestly, not very interesting. I did not really get into the book until I met Estevan and Jarritt and a handful of other characters. The duke is just the sort of male lead I like best, in fact, and if he’d been the protagonist, I might have got into the story faster. But for various excellent reasons, he couldn’t take the pov.
Things get moving better after we meet the ophidian character, not just because of the ophidian, but because the story comes together at that point. Tension ratchets sharply upward, problems look potentially unresolvable, and various startling plot twists occur. I don’t mean The Big Secret, I mean other things. I do appreciate a really intelligent character.
So if you start this one, you might consider going on with it a bit even if your response to the beginning, like mine, is sort of lackluster.
The ending is, like the beginning, sort of lackluster. Not bad. But the main tension is resolved well before that and the ending qua ending feels more like an epilogue . . . maybe because there’s a lot of tell-don’t-show, but that can be fine sometimes. I suspect it’s actually because the ending is once more focused very much on Marin, and I just don’t find her that engaging. I mean, sure, nice. But not very compelling.
Okay, so, ranking Gillian Bradshaw’s books, where does this one fit?
Right at the top, these five, in this order:
Beacon at Alexandria
Island of Ghosts
Render Unto Caesar
Then a notch or two below those, these four, in this order:
The Sun’s Bride
Alchemy of Fire
Then, a notch or two below those:
And waaaay at the bottom:
Horses of Heaven
The Arthurian trilogy.
Agree? Disagree? I realize some of you may shuffle the order of all these around, but surely everyone puts Beacon somewhere near the top and Horses of Heaven somewhere near the bottom? I know for sure I had already accepted Mary Stewart’s Arthurian quadrilogy as definitive long before I read Bradshaw’s, so that probably influenced my feeling about those.
Also, I have read all but Horses of Heaven and the Arthurian trilogy several times minimum, so it’s not like I think Dark North is bad. Just not as good as her others.
Now, where would I put Magic’s Poison in this list? I’m thinking . . . maybe right above Alchemy of Fire. It’s not bad. I liked it. But the disinterest I felt toward the protagonist makes me slot it in fairly low, even though the much higher interest I developed toward some of the secondary characters — one in particular — means that it winds up in the middle of the list, far above Horses of Heaven or the Arthurian trilogy.
Okay, now I’m going to go start the second book in the series. It’s a four-book series, incidentally: Magic’s Poison, The Enchanted Archive, The Duke’s Murder, and The Iron Cage.
I gather the first two feature the same characters and stand as a duology, then the third is set several years later and the fourth a decade after that. They’re all cheap on Amazon, so I’ve picked them all up.
Incidentally, I note that I bought Magic’s Poison four and a half years ago. Sheesh. Glad I finally got to it.