Opening: “It was a burnished, cloudless day with a tug-of-war wind, a fine day for flying. And so Raglan Skein left his body neatly laid out on his bed, its breath as slow as sea swell, and took to the sky.”
The sad fact is, this is the third time I tried to read this book. The first time I got partway in and then got stuck. The second time, I checked it out from the library and then it just sat until it was time to be returned. This time, I was determined to finish, but I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy myself.
I loved it.
I do realize that there was a lot of buzz about this book when it first came out, so it’s quite likely that I’m the last person on the face of the planet to read it. Nonetheless, I am going to blather on a bit.
One of the things that really made the book work for me was the writing, which was lovely–quiet, but beautifully done. I didn’t mark any specific examples, alas, but I enjoyed the subtlety of the descriptions. It never felt overblown or overdone, but it was all the better for that.
Hathin is our main character, and she’s a great one. Her combination of quiet strength and self-deprecation reminded me a lot of Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle, although the scope of the stories is quite different. I’m a huge fan of heroines in this category (we need them to balance out the sword-wielding types) and I found myself genuinely caring about Hathin and her world. There are all kinds of growing-up questions and concerns here, and yet they didn’t feel Angsty or as if they were taking over the story.
Another thing that Hardinge does wonderfully are the implications of race and colonialism. They’re clearly present in the story and the world, but they’re also behind the story in a way that keeps the book from becoming about these issues in a false or forced way. They’re present because they’re present in Hathin’s world. I’m sure that there are morals which could be drawn, but they’re not drawn for us. All in all, it’s a difficult subject and one which is dealt with in a subtle, graceful, and sympathetic way.
Perhaps the clincher for me was the fact that this world just feels real. There’s beautiful description of the scenery and cultures, but never of the sort that seems expository. The Cavalcaste, the Lace, and the other tribes seem fully formed in their own right, not just sketched out to further the plot. They have a complicated and sometimes disastrous history. I realize that this is a kind of strange comparison, but I was reminded of Lois McMaster Bujold, who manages to create such different societies in Beta, Barrayar, and so on, each with their own knots and tangles.
A brief note on ages–this fell pretty squarely on the mg/YA border, in my opinion. There’s some mostly off-screen violence, but no romance, and the main character is about fourteen. However, given the scope and politics involved, I could definitely see it being YA as well.
Book source: public library
Book information: HarperCollins, 2009; YA (maybe upper mg)