No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, June 01, 2018

2018/27: Elegy -- Vale Aida

"Whatever shall we do? You wish to kill me, and I return your ardour most fervently. Yet here we are, dancing together in a city under truce.” [p. 144]
Kedris Andalle, Governor of Cassarah, has been murdered: ostensibly by brigands, but the consensus is that it was actually at the behest of the Queen of Sarei. The members of the Cassaran Council are squabbling over who gets to be Governor next: consensus here is that it had probably better not be Kedris' only son, Savonn, known as Silvertongue.

Savonn's unsuitability is evident from the first chapter, in which he transforms his father's funeral into a theatrical production. The next time we encounter him, he's masquerading as a gardener in order to infiltrate the Council's deliberations, to which he has not been invited. A former actor who became a soldier at his father's behest, it's his responsibility to avenge the death: he may have other motivations for leaving Cassarah before old secrets can be laid bare.

Meanwhile, his all-but-sister Iyone is investigating a series of murders, and falling in love; and Savonn's squire Emaris is learning a great deal about his commander's past. Though not, obviously, from Savonn himself.

This novel was an absolute delight. I find myself nitpicking at small worldbuilding details (it's a fantasy world, so why is there a planet Venus and a month July when gods and vengeful spirits get new names?) just to stop myself, briefly, from gushing. Item: our dashing hero is not especially good-looking. Item: there are major characters who have no apparent romantic or sexual interests at all. Item: all sexualities and genders seem to be equally accepted (there's at least one trans character; Savonn was (is?) in love with another man; there are hints at a polyamorous relationship). Item: multiple strong female characters. (Item: nemeses in love.)

What I liked best, I think, was the emotional complexity, which makes up for any over-simplification in worldbuilding, and which reminded me strongly of Dunnett. As did the witty dialogue, the fondness for disguise and stratagem, the rumours of children with questionable parentage, the baffled viewpoint characters ...

I wish this book and its sequel (Swansong) were as popular as C. S. Pacat's Captive Prince trilogy. Personally, I find Vale Aida's duology more enjoyable: there's no explicit sex or torture, the characters are more diverse, and the plot somewhat twistier. Your mileage may vary.

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