Sunday, June 30, 2013

Book Review - The Traitor's Daughter by Paula Brandon

Finally, a book review! I don't have much time for reading these days, and even less for writing reviews, but here's one I jotted down while on the train to DC a few days ago.

I picked up The Traitor's Daughter, intrigued by the fact that it was billed as "fantasy romance." I didn't know that was a genre! And since it's the genre I would write in, if it existed, I figured I ought to do some research and read the novel, seeing as the synopsis and review soundbites made it sound halfway interesting - kidnapping, revolution, ominous magical signs, all taking place somewhere called the Veiled Isles.

Well, for a couple days after I finished reading, I wished I was still reading it. That's a good sign, right? It wasn't just that the characters became real to me and the plot was pageturning. They were really likable characters in an intriguing world, and I enjoyed spending time with them and finding out about their world.

The story centers on teenaged Jianna, a nobleman's daughter who is kidnapped by rebels en route to her arranged marriage. Although she is indeed spoiled, she's far from an annoying brat - she is actually intelligent and witty, adapts quickly to her new situation, and turns her mental acuities to escape rather than wasting time whining.

Even the "bad guys" arouse the reader's admiration and sympathy. (**spoilers**) Aureste Belandor, Jianna's father, is a cutthroat schemer who betrayed both his family and his people to hold onto his title and fortune, yet one can't help feeling for him as he wages everything to get his daughter back. Yvenza Belandor, Jianna's captor, is similarly ruthless, but touches of affection toward her adopted son, of sorts, bring nuance to her character. It is also nice to see a strong female character who is not sexualized at all. (**end spoilers**)

In addition, beyond the fact that most readers will probably root unconditionally for Jianna, it's rather unclear who the good guys and bad guys are. From an objective viewpoint, Yvenza's cause has at least as much, if not more, merit than Aureste's and Jianna's. Add some subplots and a looming magical disaster that threatens to wipe out the whole society, and the story quickly becomes much more complicated than the standard romance novel.

As far as worldbuilding goes, the world is carefully constructed. It has the hallmarks of many fantasy worlds - nobility, magic, sword-fighting - but with enough novel elements to make it intriguing. The author has invented new titles such as "Magnifico" and "Magnifica" to replace the commonplace "Lord" and "Lady," and the characters' names show a strong Italian influence alongside the usual Celtic sound. The magic is more developed than in many fantasy novels, involving devices and learned techniques along with innate talent and magic spells, making it more reminiscent of alchemy or steampunk tinkering than the usual magic. Several other elements - such as amphibian creatures, the rebellion and a zombie-creating plague - also bring something fresh to the genre, although I have to admit I'm still on the fence about the amphibians and zombies. While they are skilfully worked in, their significance hasn't been revealed yet, which makes their unusual presence feel a little haphazard. I'm sure the zombies, at least, will be addressed in the rest of the trilogy.

The book is not without larger weaknesses, either. I actually found the romance to be one of the weakest points. Although I knew it was coming, I was kept guessing for a while - until a certain character was introduced, and I knew immediately from the special attention the author gave him that he was the one Jianna would fall for. (This was in stark contrast to the previous romance novel I read, where things were well advanced before I was sure who the lucky guy was.) Jianna's eventual feelings also quickly became clear in the way that she thought about him, even if by the end of the book, they still weren't clear to her. Perhaps this is conventional in romance, but everything else in the book lifts it above the limitations of that genre, so why should the romantic relationship be predictable, when none of the rest of it is? Sadly, it struck me as the way an amateur slash writer would write romance. But Paula Brandon is not an amateur writer - she's actually Paula Volsky, an established fantasy writer (albeit one whose books I've never read).

Still, I did enjoy the book enough and got enough connected to the characters that I plan to, and look forward to, reading the next installment in the trilogy. Just that I won't bother holding my breath about whether Jianna gets her man, no matter how suspenseful the ending to this first book was.

Next review: I'm about halfway through Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey (sequel to Leviathan Wakes) so that should be next!

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