Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Briar King; The Charnel Prince by Greg Keyes

There isn't much in either of these volumes that could be considered original, but what you will find are all the standard fantasy troupes presented to the reader much better than most genre fair. Not too much to be said for style, but the execution is solid.

There's a knight on a quest, both internal and external. There is royalty in exile plotting to reclaim a stolen throne. And there is the all around handyman badass who has gotten caught in the middle of a plot and fight much bigger than he. Very little is said of the bad guys.

The unifying theme thus far is a liberal definition of, a 'coming of age' story. Princess Anne is an annoying fifteen year old, spoiled, rich girl whom I almost got nauseated merely reading about. The transformation she makes by the end of the second book is phenomenal, and better still convincing. Life outside of her sheltered palace and pampered life isn't as romantic nor fairy tale like as she thought, and her ordeals and revelations help make her character solid, sympathetic, and realistic. I have no doubt that by the end, I'll be cheering for her.

Aspar, a woodsman in the King's employ, has lived a solitary life with a troubling past. He is forced to re-examine his past and current life as an unforeseen love interest overcomes him and alters everything he thought he knew to be true about life. While he's always been handy in a fight and a quick thinker, he has a proven knack at taking out supernatural beast previously thought to only exist in fairy tales; that quality separates him from everyone else who kicks ass. Speaking of ass kicking...

Sir Neil is the knight in shinning armor. He is the most sure and predictable character presented, yet it's the doubt that grows within on his quest that make him interesting. He questions the ideals he was taught to hold true, and their real world value. Above all he questions his own happiness and the nature of selfish acts wondering if he really has to sacrifice his honor and duty to do something for himself and what else there is in his life other than duty.

There is an undercurrent in all three of these characters having to 'grow up' and find their true identity on their own.

Enough of the squeaky clean; the bad guys real odd balls. There is the standard intrigue at court headed up by the Charnel Prince; a character that thus far doesn't seem terribly grounded to me. His primary motive is terribly weak considering his actions and there are times where even he doesn't seem to know what's going on. There is much to be expanded on for Prince Robert in the coming volumes.

The Briar King's is on a quest that seems to mirror Anne's in many way. He's a elder Deity who is angry and near all powerful who may not be truly 'bad' at heart; merely pissed off. I absolutely love him for reasons I can't put a finger on.

The most tangible 'bad guy' the novel present is The Church. A religious organization that has immense power and sway over various nations and is thoroughly corrupt.

The secondary characters have captured my interest thus far more than those I've previously mentioned, and it is with these characters that I think Keyes has really set himself apart. There's a cocky playboy swordsman, who is good but not as good as he thinks (both with women and weapons). A priest, and giant nerd, whose faith in the church is shaken as he witnesses its corruption only to find a new concentration in life in linguistics and it's application in helping his friends. Finally, a composer. Yeah... I never saw that coming. A court musician who unknowingly takes up the mantel of hero and all the good and bad that the title bestows.

The languages are, of course made up, and some of the coincidences to the characters in the books, come off as mere plot conveniences to the reader (though I do hesitate to say deus ex machina). The musical performances and portrayal might be unprecedented and given my background in music I'm not sure I can objectively comment to their effect on most readers. In an awesome effort by Keyes' to make both of these abnormal fantasy conflicts poignant and interesting one could argue some self-indulgence on the authors part in addition to some overwrought narrative. I don't think the presentation was perfect by any means, but I applaud Keyes for trying, and should you read the books, I think you will too (if you're not too busy enjoying what's written.)

Half way through, and I can only imagine things getting better from here on out.

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