Thursday, 8 April 2010

‘The Poison Throne’ – Celine Kiernan (Orbit)


I was sent a few ARCs at the end of the last year and thought it would be fun to post the blurbs etc and see what people thought in terms of whether these books would make it big in 2010. ‘The Poison Throne’ was one of these books and from what I recall (Internet access being non-existent at the time of writing thank you very much Mr Internet Provider…) opinion was divided. Having just finished the book myself, my opinion is pretty divided as well… You’re going to be seeing a lot of Celine Kiernan over the coming months as Orbit have bought the rights to her ‘Moorehawke’ trilogy and will be releasing the books on a monthly basis (it worked for Brent Weeks’ ‘Night Angel’ trilogy and if it ain’t broke…) There’s enough here to have me interested in the sequel but ‘The Poison Throne’ wasn’t an easy book to get into…

Wynter Moorehawke and her sickly father have returned to the Court that held such happy childhood memories for her only to find that everything has changed. King Jonathon was a kind and just ruler but has since become a violent despot whose people live in fear and whose son has been driven away to plot a coup from exile. The King’s other son, Razi, is being forced to become heir to a throne that he doesn’t want and finds that he must obey his father or lose all that he loves. Wynter is a close friend of Razi and finds that she must tread a delicate path or else become embroiled in the King’s machinations…
At the heart of all the politicking and lies is a war machine so deadly that it’s name must not be mentioned. Whoever has possession of this machine will rule a kingdom but the consequences of its use are so deadly as to be beyond consideration. Wynter’s father built it…

‘The Poison Throne’ is a beautifully drawn picture of just how ugly the business of Court can really be underneath the sumptuous banquets and bright livery. The more lavish a court is the more evidence you’ll find of people prepared to do whatever they must to hold onto the power they have gained. This is very much the case in Jonathon’s court where the reader sees a King prepared to sacrifice his sons to safeguard a future under threat from foes only hinted at. And therein lies a problem with this book…
Kiernan throws her readers in at the deep end right from the start and assumes that they have some prior knowledge of the events that led to the current situation, glossing over these in order to concentrate on the characters instead. There is mention of a prequel (in the author interview at the back of the book) and I’m not sure whether this has already been published or not; maybe the answers are there. Whether this is the case or not, the upshot is that the reader is left with a book that keeps it’s background tantalisingly out of reach and the story itself feels like it has nothing to stand up against. Such an approach can either leave you too frustrated to continue (as the book doesn’t give you a lot to go on) or leave you eager to find out more in the sequel. I fell towards the latter but, funnily enough, not because of the plot…

Kings gone mad on power, and terrorising their kingdoms, can be found in most fantasy novels in one form or another. Well-written characters are a rarer commodity and should be treasured wherever they are found. Kiernan gives her readers a bit of a treat in that while her characters may appear generic at first there’s a lot more to them under the surface and they are all worth spending time with. I’m after reading the sequel to ‘The Poison Throne’, not so much to find out what happens next but to find out what happens next for Wynter, Razi and the rest of them. Not a lot happens in terms of action, it’s all about how people deal with what is happening. It’s a small distinction but an important one.

Wynter Moorehawke is very much the female version of the ‘kitchen boy who ends up playing an important part in the fate of a kingdom’. Through her na├»ve eyes however, the reader gets a real sense of tragedy in the way that a kingdom can fall into ruin so quickly. It’s all the more poignant for being seen through her eyes. Wynter’s attempts to impose any kind of order on events, that she has previously been sheltered from, merely emphasise how out of control everything is. I found her growth as a character, through all of these events, a compelling path to follow and one that I will be travelling for the next book at least.
It’s not just Wynter who gets the ‘well rounded treatment’; Kiernan shows us that while everyone has some good in them life can lead to unpleasant choices that will shape a person. The result is a cast of characters who can surprise the reader when it’s least expected. People can do the wrong things for the right reasons and this casts the King in a new light just when the reader thinks that he’s got him figured. The same goes for all the other characters and it’s a pleasure to spend time with a cast that springs to life on the page in all the right ways (even though the exploration of these characters can sometimes be a little verbose…)

Kiernan’s world is that of 14th century Europe but with a hint of magic and fantasy that makes this world all her own. These elements of fantasy are not expanded upon but this time it’s very much the right thing to do. Kiernan knows that the reason things are magical is because they’re not explained and uses this to good effect in adding a little more depth to the shadowy corners of her kingdom.

‘The Poison Throne’ is a tough book to get into but is a book that is saved by chraracters that I found I wanted to take time to get to know. I’d like to see things made a little more clear in the sequel however, I’ll let you know how it goes…

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Graeme for the review. The blurb sounded interesting and the exerpt was interesting...pretty dark and yet compelling. I don't mind dark and gritty fantasy, as long there is some humour (see Abercrombie and GRRM). Is it dark and grim throughout? I couldn't stand Bakker for that reason. If you can let me know, that would be appreciated.

Jennifer

Graeme Flory said...

If you're after something dark then you'll find that 'The Poison Throne' is at least a couple of notches down from the likes of Abercrombie and GRRM etc. And if you're after something gritty then you won't find it in 'The Poison Throne' at all.
There is a dark edge to the politicking that occasionally erupts into brief flashes of violence. What I found though is that having the story told from the perspective of a 15 year old girl tended to inhibit just how dark the story could have been (especially when supporting characters were trying to shelter her from the worst excesses...)

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

That does help Graeme. Thanks!

Jennifer

Ruth (Book Focus) said...

Interesting perspective. I didn't feel the characters were as deep as you found, but it's possible I was just reading it too fast. To me the characters just didn't make sense; they weren't consistent, jumping from one personality trait to the other.

Anyway, I reviewed this book as well, a while back, I hope you don't mind if I link to your review from mine! Thanks :)