Monday, June 11, 2007

Book Reviews: Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone, Books 1-3

Imagine George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, but with the sex, blood, and despair turned down 50%. That's what Gregory Keyes's Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone books are like. If you're jonesing for some ASOIAF but can't wait for A Dance with Dragons, these are your methadone.

Keyes sets up a politically complex, medieval parallel world on the verge of dynastic war that is thrown into total chaos by the sudden reemergence of ancient evils and strange magics. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?) The ruling family of Crotheny happen to be direct descendants of the sorceress who freed the world from magical enslavement, and only the scion of this line can hope to avert a new apocalypse. But forces with mysterious motives murder most of the royal family and it's not clear whether the creatures of legend that have reemerged are friends or foes. Can Princess Anne, many-times-granddaughter of Virginia Dare (yes, that one), save her world? You won't find out until book 4 comes out in January 2008.

The characters are less multidimensional than Martin's, but Princess Anne makes a believable transition from bratty royal to born-queen-in-the-making. Keyes's experience with fencing and linguistics is well-used to make battle scenes with a vaguely Mediterranean itinerant duelist more interesting than your average fantasy novel sword fight and the character of what would otherwise be a generically nerdy monk more complex. He does leave several threads hanging (what we are told about a shadow order of nun-assassins doesn't make much sense, a belle dame avec merci is something of a deus ex machina, and the big reveal in book three is somewhat unbelievable), but the books are rather addictive regardless. Recommended for fantasy enthusiasts.
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