boobs:2 // blood:2 // bombs:1 // bondage:3 // blasphemy:1
For a story about a sacred prostitute, blessed by the god of vengeance and redemption with the gift of perfect masochism set in a fantasy world teetering on a full scale war of succession, there was a sad and disappointing lack of sex and violence. It was a decent story; I finished all 1280 ereader screens but I won't be reading any more of the saga. Truth be told, they could probably shave a couple of hundred of pages by condensing all the ridiculously long french and gaelic inspired names. The names of the supporting characters were very challenging for me - I couldn't sound them out properly, so I couldn't keep them straight in my head.
Generally, this wasn't too much trouble, as there aren't a lot of scenes with more than two or three big players. Despite reaching for The Heights of Epic Fantasy, and exceeding the Minimum Words requirement, this is a story about one person, and the other people exist only to push and pull her along the path set out so long ago by the likes of Tolkien, etc. The worldbuilding was 'meh'; another varnished copy of feudal Europe. Magic doesn't have as big a place in the story as faith does, further driving the characterization towards internal dimensions rather than the broad horizons and intricate plots of Martin or Jordan styled fantasy.
This was an exceptionally wordy book that borrows liberally from the french, gaelic and olde english vocabularies, and everytime I felt like I was getting into the groove of the tone and voice I got jolted by some turn of phrase that didn't fit. One glaring example that sticks with me is the use of 'meter' to describe the height of a statue, when every other dimension in the book was described in relative terms. Also, while I know more than I could ever possibly care about what people were wearing and the colors of their eyes, I don't know anything about the quirks and details of any of the main characters. The author did a better job describing the thread holding each dress together than the handedness of our heroine and her companions. Despite providing us with the recipe of every dish in every lavish meal, I know nothing about the cutlery or table settings. After a while, it felt like lazy writing, like the author only cares about clothes and food. Imagine a huge painting where 7/8 of the painting is a rough charcoal sketch, and 1/8 is vividly painted in pointillist detail - that's what reading this book was like. I'm sure I would've appreciated it more if the focus was on details I care more about, namely sex and violence.
I'm still undecided if the retrospective point of view was a device to keep the story moving, or a way for the author to gloss over description and world building. We definitely get inside the head of Phaedre and learn about how she feels about her childhood and adolescence; but her singular viewpoint sacrifices the internal lives of other characters and avoids illuminating the world. The more I read about this book, the more I found myself caring less about Phaedra and more about the people around her. I was hungry for their feelings and motivations, and grew a bit tired of the predictable way Phaedra reacted to the events unfolding around her.
Especially bothersome to me was the way the sadists who hired Phaedra were protrayed. This is a problem throughout BDSM oriented writing, and this book was one of the worst offenders. Most of the reason I finished the book was because I hoped she'd meet a top that wasn't just a means to an end for her. The tops described in this book were each nasty, brutish, selfish and/or otherwise undersirable. WTF? I understand that there are many, many more subs than tops in the world, and therefore marketing dictates stories should be written for them. But that doesn't mean that sadists are any less dimensional, caring or conflicted than any other human. Additionally, Phaedre's experience as a masochist is handled too gingerly by the author. Numerous times throughout the book, there were perfect opportunities to explore the intersections of desire, pleasure, pain, control, servitude and disgust but they were each neatly sidestepped before any genuine intimacy could emerge. Along these lines, there was no explicit sex to speak of, but lots of sex happens and it's crucial to driving the story.
As she wanders around her country, and her country's neighbors, she has basically three assets. Firstly, her desireability. It's a given for her; asking Phaedra about what it's like to be wanted is like asking a fish to describe 'wet'. This is her principal asset in getting herself involved in the machinations of statecraft. Secondly, she's had an education and a gift for languages, so the character interacts easily with the various peoples she encounters on her travels. Ultimately, though, it's her willingness to bed the right people at the right time that helps her achieve her goals. This isn't a bad thing, don't ever let it be said that I'm not in favor of releasing sexuality into more of our lives, but the way it was presented, and because the sex wasn't explicit, I feel a real chance to illustrate how empowering sexuality can be was horribly wasted. Additionally, by not getting into the sweaty details of any of the sex that happens, perhaps the best chance to connect with the characters was lost.
This book was entertaining enough, but it's not especially engrossing or groundbreaking. The lack of dimensionality in most of the characters was disappointing and, in my mind, makes this less of an Epic Fantasy and more like "Memoirs of a Feudal European Geisha". I would recommend this book to fantasy fans who like to think about kinky sex, but not talk about it.