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Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: THE ROSE THRONE by Mette Ivie Harrison

Make sure to check out my interview with Mette and this exclusive unveiling of "Young Haikor," a prelude to The Rose Throne. And enter to win a copy of The Rose Throne here!

The Rose Throne by Mette Ivie Harrison
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Historical Fantasy/ Fairytale-esque, 400 pages
Expected publication: May 14th 2013 by EgmontUSA
Richly-imagined fantasy romance from the author of Princess and the Hound, a tale of two princesses--one with magic, one with none--who dare seek love in a world where real choice can never be theirs. For fans of Megan Whalen Turner, Catherine Fisher, and Cassandra Clare.

Ailsbet loves nothing more than music; tall and red-haired, she's impatient with the artifice and ceremony of her father's court. Marissa adores the world of her island home and feels she has much to offer when she finally inherits the throne from her wise, good-tempered father. The trouble is that neither princess has the power--or the magic--to rule alone, and if the kingdoms can be united, which princess will end up ruling the joint land? For both, the only goal would seem to be a strategic marriage to a man who can bring his own brand of power to the throne. But will either girl be able to marry for love? And can either of these two princesses, rivals though they have never met, afford to let the other live?

There's an interesting thing that happens with me and Mette Ivie Harrison's writing, in that I tend to have one big problem with something (often something hard to pin down or explain), and I find myself dwelling on it, even when I like the book/story/character/ideas or whatever else I may really like. I talked about this before in The Princess and the Hound, but essentially, I fall into her writing really easily and find it readable (I think some may find it slow, but to be honest, I like that unhurried quality to it), and I always find myself appreciating her worlds and remembering them and her characters for longer than I generally do with books. I liked The Princess and the Hound, though I think perhaps less in hindsight, when my overwhelming impression seemed to focus on the things I wanted more from; but I liked The Rose Throne even more, which makes me curious how I'll feel about it down the line. I find Harrison's world and concepts really intriguing, and her two princesses, Issa and Ailsbet, believably distinct. They played well off of each other, and the changing POVs in the narration actually benefited the story, whereas I normally find things like this risky, gimmicky and sadly flow-breaking. I'm glad to say this was not the case for The Rose Throne. I also had very concrete images of the characters and various settings, but without ever feeling like I'd just had to wade through a ton of detailed world-building and info-dumping, and that makes me very happy as a reader. It makes it all seem a little more natural and effortless.

But that doesn't change the fact that there's always that one thing in her stories that causes a disconnect for me, and that I can't help but dwell on. And I think, with The Rose Throne, I've figured out what it is: there is a bit of a passiveness in Harrison's writing when it comes to the characters and with the way the story is structured.  For example, there is a part where one princess slaps another, and you'd expect that to be a very tense, exciting moment. But the tension was dramatically lessened by the way in which the scene is written. It's not "I raised my hand and slapped her," which is active and felt more powerfully by the reader; instead, it's written as
 "Issa raised a hand, and the sound of the slap rang in the room like music." 
Pretty, yes, but it's one step disconnected from Issa's action: it's not "Issa slapped Ailsbet, and the sound rang in the room like music," which still captures the feeling of violence and beauty, mingled. Instead, Issa raises her hand, a slap is heard, and the reader connects the two - but Issa is removed from the power of immediate action. I know this may sound silly to some people, but subconsciously, things like this do make a difference in the way a reader reacts to a story. I think this is the "elusive something" that I couldn't put my finger on in my review of The Princess and the Hound, when I said that bones of the story were there, but it was missing something in the connective tissue.

The other part of the disconnect is that sometimes the reactions - or at least, the transitions into them - don't seem natural. They tend to either seem really understated and passive, or they blaze up to extremes, seemingly out of nowhere. In the case of The Rose Throne, I would say this is meant to mimic the two different magics, the neweyr and taweyr, but the same was true of The Princess and the Hound, so it seems to be more of a stylistic thing. And even if it was intentional, that doesn't necessarily make it the best choice... There's just not always a consistent, recognizable flow to characters and their actions, and though it's not necessarily something that's readily noticeable, it does cause a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the story. This means that I didn't always believe the characters' romances, emotions, and motivations, or their sudden insights - if they can figure each other out at a glance, why can't everyone else around them see through them and their schemes? But either I eventually got used to it and went with it, or things went on long enough in this vein to make it seem more natural, because by the end of the book, I didn't have as much of an issue with this. I think it goes back to the suddenness of their emotions and reactions - Issa and Kellin, seemingly in love upon first contentious encounter, Ailsbet's waffling on using her magic and ruling, or abandoning everything and everyone in pursuit of music, etc

Now, here I find myself, once again, giving this weird, overly-analytical review of Harrison's style, and I'm afraid that it ends up coming off that I didn't like the book. Fact is, I did. I found it intriguing and memorable, and in some of the ways I reacted to it, it sort of reminded me of Chalice by Robin McKinley (which itself was a bit of a problem book for me, but again, one I think highly of... It's all very confusing.); I even see why Harrison made the stylistic choices she made, and how they do make sense, in a way. And I find myself both liking it and puzzled by my not liking of it.  And so, I think the reason I dwell on these things the way I do is because I see potential for a book I could really love, and I see real skill in the storytelling that is being held back by this thing, whatever it may be, and I just want to fix it.

So what I'm saying is, I doubt most of you will focus on these aspects of Harrison's storytelling, which means you probably won't take issue the way I have, and will be able to enjoy it unfettered. It think it is definitely worth the read for its complexities and the way that Harrison explores characters and themes. And if you do read it, I'd love to discuss it with you!

[Side note: I just saw the comparison to Cassandra Clare in the synopsis, and I just want to say: I think they're way off on that, AND I'd choose Mette over Cassie any day.]

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  1. What a good review! This sounds like something I would enjoy reading!

  2. Misty, this review highlights the reason I love coming to your blog. You understand more than just story--you get structure and syntax. Recognizing the problem with passive voice isn't something many readers consciously pick up on, even though it does bother most of us.

    This still sounds like an interesting book though!

  3. I do the same thing where I will get hung up on one aspect of a book. I haven't read this yet, but I plan to very soon!

  4. It's great to hear your opinion on the importance of diction in conveying the right emotion in a book. :)

  5. "Issa raised a hand, and the sound of the slap rang in the room like music"

    That is quite a unique way to convey a slap to the face. Glad you did such a detailed review. I almost feel like I paid to read this.

  6. I love your review. I know how you feel when you have a disconnect, but still like the book in the end.


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