Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Book Review: "The King's Bastard" by Rowena Cory Daniells

Piro caught Leif and thrust him behind her, as Garzik reached for an arrow. The wolfhounds had one of the juveniles trapped in a corner of the dairy. Florin and Orrade were doing a sweep of Narrowneck to be sure they had got them all. Garzik notched his arrow and drew, waiting for a good shot. 

 The side of Piro's neck prickled with warning. She turned. Another juvenile stood in the shadows, poised to attack Leif. 

"Garzik!" she hissed, reaching for an arrow and nocking it. 

"Quiet, Piro. I don't want to hit one of the dogs." 

She couldn't take her gaze off those gleaming orange eyes, but at the same time she was aware of the raised tail, the poisoned spike dripping with venom. Could her arrow drive through the manticore's eye into its brain before it struck Leif? She didn't think so. But she had to do something. She thrust Leif behind her, saw a stray bucket and, quick as thought, kicked it at the beast. The manticore struck instinctively, tail hitting the bucket with a resounding ring of chitin striking metal. Piro loosed her arrow. It took the manticore high in the shoulder where it hit the neck. 

Garzik swore. A dog howled, then whimpered. The other two growled as they attacked, tearing the second manticore apart. The cornered Affinity beast screamed in pain and fury. Piro's manticore took one step before its legs folded under it. She darted aside dragging Leif out of the way of the falling tail. They collided with Garzik's back, driving him to safety and fell in a heap on the dairy floor. 

 "Whaa?" Garzik rolled to his feet. He gaped as he took in the second manticore. 

 Piro climbed to her feet. Odd, her legs didn't work properly.

 ~Excerpt from The King's Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniells

Byren and Lence are the eldest sons of King Rolen, and the seven minutes that separated their birth have dictated that Lence would rule Rolencia-- and Byren wouldn't have it any other way. But when a renegade power user tells Byren that he is destined to be King, he fights her awful prophecy in every way he can.

It doesn't take long for a distance to grow between Lence and Byren, and he doesn't know if the rift was already there or if the seeds of discord were planted by the old seer. At the same time, other cracks begin to appear in the peaceful facade of the kingdom of Rolencia. Political unrest brews despite the strategic marriage arranged between Lence and the daughter of a powerful warlord.

Unusual amounts of untamed magic, known as "Affinity seeps" begin to appear, drawing magical, and dangerous, creatures toward human habitations. Even the churches have become more concerned with internal power-plays than spiritual matters. Further complicating things is the presence of the illegitimate nephew of King Rolen, Illien Cobalt, whose friendship with Lence seems to be increasing the distance between the two brothers.

 "The King's Bastard" follows a template that is very common in fantasy fiction; an heir to the throne who is jealous of the younger, more popular sibling. Throw in some prophesy and magic and you might think you've read this book before-- and maybe you have, but that doesn't mean you won't like "The King's Bastard" as much as all the others. There's just something to be said for telling a good story.

 The book follows the perspective of three of the four children of King Rolen: Byren, Fyn and Piro. While Byren deals with the secular threats to the kingdom, Fyn and Piro become caught up more magical intrigues. Magic users are required to serve the churches and Fyn has spent most of his life in a monastery. But Piro's ability didn't show itself until she had already been betrothed to a neighboring warlord, and revealing her secret may add to the unrest that already unsettling her father's rule.

 The best thing about "The King's Bastard" is the pacing. I can't remember the last time I read a 600+ page book so fast. There are times the book walks a fine line between fantasy and soap-opera but somehow the author always manages to pull the book back from the brink of too many misunderstandings and overheard conversations. She especially does a good job of balancing more than one main character without confusing transitions-- you can put this book down and pick it up without any difficulty sliding right back into the story.

I also like the balance struck between the political and magical aspects of the story and the inclusion of magical creatures such as manticores and leogryfs, known as "Affinity beasts" is an especially nice touch. Bad things happen to the characters in "The King's Bastard" but not in a grueling or graphic fashion. We also know who the villains are, we just don't know how things are going to play out. If I had to come up with a short-hand description of the book, I would say it's kind of a less gritty version of "A Game of Thrones," which I liked because it has a lot of entertainment value without being overly complicated.

I might have wished for an ending that didn't quite feel so rushed and slightly convoluted as it didn't quite match the excellent pacing of the rest of the book. But, overall, the book is a definite page-turner and I genuinely look forward to reading the next book in the series.


BStearns said...

I didn't read the whole review here because I didn't want any spoilers. This book sounds really good, and I really think I may pick it up. I'm espcially excited because of the pacing you mentioned, I love when I get a book that I can't put down, and waste full days reading it. Thanks for this review, and I am definitely picking this up!


Anonymous said...

Can't wait to buy this! Going to pre-order for my holidays!