Okay, so, I read this (very long) book slowly. Very slowly. I started it … when did I start it? Before Christmas Break started. Around the middle of December, I guess. I’ve been working on Tano, as you all know, and that slowed me down a lot, as I mostly opened At the Feet of the Sun at bedtime, read a little bit, and then turned off the light.
Of course this was a book I anticipated with great excitement, and then all your comments here made me anticipate AtFotS in a completely different way, as various commenters had every reaction from very disappointed to very pleased. Now, having read it myself … I see where everyone is coming from in their various opinions, but overall I liked AtFotS quite a bit, but not as much as THotE. Let me see if I put my thoughts in some sort of order.
Okay. Some spoilers ahead, starting mild but also at least one spoiler that could be considered serious. I’ll warn you when I get to that one.
First reaction: Where the heck is his Radiancy?
I was impatient with the long, long, long beginning, the whole lead-up to the reappearance of his Radiancy / Fitzroy. The relationships between Fitzroy and Cliopher was the part I was most interested in, by a mile, so when Fitzroy didn’t turn up, and didn’t turn up, and still didn’t turn up, that was super frustrating for me. When Cliopher went off on a side quest to a parallel world, that frustration peaked and I quit for several days. You all helped me get through this part of the story by telling me when Fitzroy appears (37%) and telling me that other elements of the story were really appealing (I’m guessing you meant Cliopher finding Basil, because that was indeed really appealing).
Second reaction: This is very episodic.
The first book, The Hands of the Emperor, is not episodic in the same way. Repetitive, yes, but that’s not the same. That one is a slow build of Cliopher from the secretary in chief of the offices of the lords of state, as close to his Radiancy as anyone, but still held at a great distance, to viceroy and, as much as anyone can be, an actual friend. In other words, Cliopher grows into himself in the first book, and into a role that his Radiancy creates for him. This is thoroughly compelling. It is also all one story. When we hear about Cliopher’s ambiguously long journey across the Wide Seas, we hear about it after the fact – it’s all part of the same story – it’s not like Goddard drops Cliopher unexpectedly into the Wide Seas during the story and the reader is taken along on this voyage in story-present, as a separate episode inserted into the main story.
But that’s almost exactly what does happen in AtFotS. Twice.
In AtFotS, we have the main story, which goes like this: Cliopher, sans his Radiancy, is beginning to gradually hand over power. Then circumstances cause him to hand over power abruptly, freeing him to go off to find Basil. While he is with Basil, his Radiancy appears. Then they work out their relationship. The end.
But during this basic story, we have two moments when Cliopher is dropped into another world. First, there is the side-quest that I found so frustrating. Granted, that turns out to be short, but it’s not at all clear at the beginning how short that episode will be. Second, the reader is pulled away from the main story for a much, much longer episode where Cliopher and Fitzroy fall into Sky Ocean, this and that occurs, and then Cliopher goes on a long solitary quest to the mythic House of the Sun via a journey through a fairy-tale world.
So there are the real-world sections and the mythic/fairy-tale sections, and they are very separate from each other.
I don’t mean there aren’t connections, because of course there are. Things Cliopher learns about himself on his solitary quest to the House of the Sun lead to his ability to bring himself to finally claim high status at home, not without the occasional bobble. But the mythic fairy-tale world of Sky Ocean is so distinct from the real world that moving back and forth creates a feeling of repeated disjunction to this novel that does not exist in the first novel, where the mythic intrudes into the real world from time to time, but no part of the story takes place in the mythic realm.
On the other hand, I enjoyed the thing with the pile of corn very much.
Third Reaction: Whew, dodged a bullet, that’s a relief.
This is the big spoiler. If you don’t want that spoiler, skip down to “Overall Reaction.”
Look, I like romances. I really do. I don’t object to romantic relationships in novels. In this particular case, if Goddard had decided to take the relationship between Cliopher and Fitzroy in that direction, I would have gritted my teeth a lot, but I would have accepted that. But I’m glad she didn’t do that.
Instead of doing that, Goddard specifically expressed all the things I wanted her to express about the validity of intense non-sexual relationships. This made me very happy.
I know some of you found the angst and fuss over how to define this relationship and what word to use and the concern about what other people would think about using that word and so on tedious and annoying. I see why. Because I knew about that reaction, I was braced to feel that way, but I don’t think I did, and I think there are two reasons for that – at least two. First, I was, as I say, happy to have the relationship not be sexual, but still central for both Cliopher and Fitzroy; and for that to be seen as remarkable, but workable. Second, I do think that the shift from god-emperor/statesman to Fitzroy/Cliopher was a huge shift, intrinsically difficult, so hitting repeated high-angst moments while working out that relationship felt reasonable to me.
The thing that actually did bother me (somewhat) was that in THotE, Cliopher did not ever think about anything to do with the word fenoa or about his youthful dreams of finding, in the emperor, this kind of, basically, soulmate. Now, I can see various ways to justify that. But there is still a disconnect between how Cliopher really did feel about his Radiancy in the first book and the way Cliopher now feels about that relationship in retrospect.
On the other hand, I did like how that relationship worked out and overall did not find this felt too angsty to me, nor even too repetitive. I mean, there was a repetitive nature to this interaction, but I felt that was reasonable and didn’t mind it nearly as much as the repetitive elements in Cliopher’s interactions with his family and friend in the first book. In AtFotS, the repetitiveness felt natural to me, even necessary.
Overall reaction: Maybe four and a half stars instead of five and a half.
I just loved The Hands of the Emperor so much. It would have been hard for At the Feet of the Sun to hit that high a mark for me, and it didn’t. I liked it a lot. But when I re-read it, I’m pretty likely to skip lightly through various sections, including most of the stuff in Sky Ocean.
Not the part with the corn, though. That was delightful.
–The thing with Rhodin and his peculiar delusion did not work for me. Way too silly.
–But I really like Ludvic.
–Wow, is Victoria Goddard amazing with description. AMAZING. Every time I see anyone asking how to work description into a novel, I’m going to point at these books.
I hope you will all comment about your reactions to this book! I’m really interested in how everyone felt about it!