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08 February 2016 @ 08:28 pm
Frostflower and Windbourne  
The Idylls of the Queen is one of my favourite Arthurian novels, so I was interested to learn that its author, Phyllis Ann Kerr, had written a fantasy sequence (or at least duology) with rather pretty titles (do not underestimate a the power of a pretty title). I obviously wasn't paying enough attention however and so ended up with Frostflower and Windbourne (the second in the sequence) rather than Frostflower and Thorn (the first).

The story is set in a world with, I would say, a broadly medieval level of technology. Society is dominated by a farmer priesthood (with nominally centralised control) and semi-autonomous cities. In the wilderness, at the edges of this civilisation, live communities of pacifist, vegetarian sorcerers who are feared because of the vast power they wield. Frostflower and Windbourne are both sorcerers who, together with Frostflower's friend-cum-bodyguard, Thorn, become embroiled in the murder of one of the farmer priests.

Possibly because I was coming in to the second story, I found the world-building a little unsatisfactory. The world is a long way from the kind of generic feudalism with wizards you get in by-the-numbers fantasy books but even so it seemed a bit... thin... to me. I would have liked to have seen more of its background and history in order to understand, for instance, the way women form the warrior caste within the society even though it obviously tends towards the patriarchal. I suspect a lot of details were being sketched over quickly in order to avoid re-iterating them for people who had read the first book, but I was left feeling frustrated.

Frostflower and Windbourne isn't quite a whodunit. The villain is mostly obvious though the reader has doubts until quite later on. It is more a how-are-you-going-to-proveit as Frostflower and Thorn struggle to prove Windbourne's innocence. It's therefore mostly driven by the local politics in this farmer priesthood society rather than the affairs of princes. It's a nice idea but again, I was vaguely dissatisfied partly because I didn't feel I had good intuitions about how the society worked.

The characters are a difficult set of people as well. Frostflower and Thorn are the most likeable though I found both Frostflower's self-doubt and Thorn's breezily oblivious self-confidence irritating in places. Windbourne is, deliberately, a passive-aggressive with a martyr complex. Eleva, the other main character, is both arrogant and paranoid (not without cause) by turns. I appreciated that none of these people are generically easy audience identification figures but I found their failings kept me at a bit of a distance. The romance, at the end, I found unconvincing.

I appreciate intellectually what this book is trying to do, presenting a different take on a medieval society with magic, which focuses on the small scale and has distinct characters but I found it an oddly unsatisfying read. I feel it would get a fairer hearing from me if I had read the first book but, on the other hand, I didn't really enjoy it enough to want to make the effort of tracking the first down.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/184487.html.
fredbassettfredbassett on February 8th, 2016 09:14 pm (UTC)
Fascinating! I do wish you read crime fiction and thrillers as you;d make a bloody good reviewer for our site!

I always find your reviews interesting, even if I don't know the source material.
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on February 9th, 2016 05:05 pm (UTC)
Well I do read crime fiction, but not in nearly the same quantities as Sci-fi and various sorts of non-fiction. Also, the books that pop out the top of my to read pile have nearly always been in there a year before they do so....
fredbassettfredbassett on February 9th, 2016 05:35 pm (UTC)
Generally, we're looking for stuff that's relatively recent, but let me know what pops up on your pile, or if there's anything you'd like that I could get sent up to you. We deal with pretty much all the publishers!
liadtbunny: Mediaeval King blingliadtbunny on February 9th, 2016 04:24 pm (UTC)
I tend to avoid flowery titles as flower titles usually signal in films a weepy with something terrible happening to women or children ending up with them dying in the gutter!
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on February 9th, 2016 05:07 pm (UTC)
Nothing particularly terrible happened to women in this - well one of the murder victims is a woman but she's not a strong identification character. One the other hand I get the impression that Frostflower and Thorn was more harrowing, though I also get the impression it was a better book.