The Bridge of D’Arnath – Son of Avonar – Carol Berg.
Boredom plus tiredness, plus lack of internet access equals I started another alphabetical trawl, this time through my 10,000 Sci-Fi and Fantasy ebooks bundle from *cough* a totally legitimate source of sci-fi and fantasy ebooks. It…took a while. Ann Logston was a bust. Brian Thomsen’s Tales of Ravenloft kind of sucked and I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be about. But at Carol Berg we hit an unexpected load of paydirt.
This book was really quite good. A few notches below “excellent”–it had potential which it didn’t live up to, and most of its high concept plotwork boils down to standard fantasy tropes–you know, Capitalized Letters for stuff like Doom, The Catastrophy, the Enemies, names with random apostrophes (D’Arnath, D’Natheil, J’Ettaine, e’tcetera). The boringly basic nature of the fantasy elements is compounded by having it all be delivered via infodumps from various characters. My eyes glazed over two lines into the first of these, and I flat-out skipped the rest of them. And, since I’m listing complaints: the climactic reveal is kind of….well…kind of hard to swallow. Nevertheless, it’s woven back into the plot satisfactorily, and there’s a more or less happy ending, so, that gets a pass.
And in any case: the worldbuilding is resoundingly solid, the characterizations are strong, intriguing, pleasingly deep, and the plot is engrossing, meaningful, and well thought-out. Parts of this book actually reminded me strongly of Angelique, which is a good thing: that also had distinctive characters and good worldbuilding.
Plot: Seri–once Lady Seriana of Comigor, a nobleman’s daughter, the sister of the King’s Champion, once considered a potential bride of the King himself–has lived in self-imposed poverty and exile for ten years, ever since her husband was burned at the stake for sorcery and her newborn son was killed. By her own brother. Fear of sorcery runs deep in the kingdom of Leire; it did not matter that her husband, Karon, was a Healer, that he has only ever used his talents to help and uplift people, or that there were a number of foolhardily brave witnesses at the witch trial to testify as much. Death is the only answer for those who use magic. Seri herself was paroled rather than executed, and has lived a peasant’s life in a secluded village ever since.
So right off the bat, this is a strong premise. We start off with our heroine as someone who has had had seriously interesting, active, and tragic life–someone with experience, perception, and information about the world and how it operates. More importantly, she has a defined personality and distinct reasons for what she does and how she thinks. Seri is reluctant to trust men in positions of authority (which is a bit of a double-edged sword), knows that she has few real friends, and treasures the ones she does have (which is another thing…)
Seri is going about her business, weeding her garden, when visited by a figure out of the past–her brother’s aide and trusted retainer, Darzid. Darzid is looking for someone, but, being the heroine, it is Seri who finds him unconscious in the woods nearby: a handsome young man with no memory, magical powers he cannot control or use, no ability to talk, the instincts of a long-trained warrior, and the impulses of a particularly spoiled, bratty aristocrat. He’s the titular Son of Avonar–D’Natheil, heir of D’Arnath, prince of e’tcetera, Duke, Champion, and so forth, and he’s supposed to be saving the world.
He can’t actually tie his own shoelaces, and the Guide he’s been sent with is even worse–he’s a cook.
And there is little time before some sort of Doom or other arrives. I’m not sure what. Seri, therefore, has her hands full, trying to get the party from Point A to Scholar B to McGuffin C to Clue D, etc, while dodging the men with empty eyes, the Sheriff, and so forth. All you really need to know is that yes, they get there in time. And yes, the world gets saved or the Bridge gets opened, or whatever.
I’m not sure I want to read the rest of the series–but you know what? This would make a kickass jiang hu TV show of 30-50 episodes. You’ve got the strong but wholly feminine heroine with the incredibly tragic past, the implausibly handsome and skilled but bratty hero, the sympathetic antagonist, the brutal actual villains, the interesting and talented side characters and sidekicks, the flashy combat, the complex and brutally tyrannical setting, and so forth.
Rated: Petty good book!