The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan
This is book one of something called The Moorhawke Trilogy. It got my attention because I checked the author's website, and saw posted fan-art of the characters, and one of the named three was shown to be very much brown. There were fans who understood a character is brown. So, I got the book into my hands.
And the character, Razi, is brown.
At first I thought this Psurope was further away or at least supposed to be, from our reality. But when it got to the part of pagan Arab bastard, spawn of some bitch witch, who bespelled the good king, before he could find himself a good Christian woman - I kind of grew somewhat... despondent. While the main characters are not aligned with the thinking of Arab pestilence and one in fact was born after a time period where such sentiments were common, and thus is in true shock to hear the words - it was still somewhat....
I can't find words for it. Thinking about it itself is just exhausting.
That is not, however, the reason I have as far been unable to finish the book. That reason is rather more confusing. I like Razi as a character, caught between a rock, a hard place, and a pair of shears. I like Christopher. And I can tolerate Wynter (the main and also female protagonist). What I find doesn't agree with me, and I am more than willing to call this a personal preference, is how the characters seem to float like skim skin on a body of cream.
There's intrigue, but we never get to see it, we only see the affects. The one time we do see pressure, it isn't carefully applied politics and manipulation, it's pure brutality and bullying.
Oh. I think I've just realized why I can't finish the book. But that reason is very much spoilerific. So I will think for a while on how to phrase it as obliquely as possible.*
Anyway, as I was saying, afloat a sea of cream; there are too many unanswered questions. On the one hand, some, perhaps all of the main characters (it is uncertain) don't know exactly what's going on. But the readers get no clue. Or at least I didn't. Things were apparently bad the generation before, but then came a good King - except now he's no longer a good king and is doing a lot of.... something. He's possibly a good man, doing bad things, for right reasons? Maybe? Or a once good man, dong wrong things, for misguided reasons.
I don't know. Whatever I was told, wasn't enough. I wasn't clinging to anyone. And I think part of that is that it's not the book I thought was being presented to me based on the first two chapters**. There was no one I really liked. There seemed to be a lot of jumping to conclusions, or assumptions and understandings about scenarios and I wasn't.... jumping. But I'm not sure this is a case of originality, as much as spotty story-telling.
It's sly, but there's a lot of tell not show. A lot of 'The character realizes than x means y. That water is wet. That this is how things are'. And that is irksome, especially when a sentence or two before there was a clear showing. But then instead of a follow through, we get an end cap of -tell-. It's all very.... aggravating.
Oh yeah, and there's nothing I particularly dislike more than a third party telling a female protagonist she's attracted to someone. It short circuits the whole process of two characters getting to know and warm to one another. To where it felt to me as if some of the supposedly 'attracted to' character's responses, came about because of that whole societal expectation of this is how you act when you are attracted to someone. Performance vs authenticity.
It's weird. I just read something new by Mercedes Lackey, noted how I had read it all before, by HER, multiple times in fact. And yet I cared about the characters, even as I groaned at them being stupid (Truth to tell this latest was a touch heavy handed, enough so I wondered and was somewhat disappointed to discover there wasn't an outside force influencing some of the angstier moments. I sincerely hope Lackey doesn't lose her touch there) In the case of 'The Poison Throne', however, the moments to build on relationships, and the characters emotional templates have that same drop of follow through as with the show show show TELL.
The plot, however, is somewhat interesting. It just hasn't been able to keep me going all the way. If I go back to it and finish, I'll update.
-- * I couldn't continue reading after realizing that the hairbrained escape the situation idea one character has, is so amazingly abundantly full of privilege. And even after said privilege (and thus the dangers it would pose) are pointed out, the character is seemingly still going to enact the plan.
** In the first two chapters of the book, I thought I was going to get a book about a character returning to courtly intrigue in an environment with supernatural elements like ghosts and communication with cats; courtly spy novel or courtly adventure novel. But I wouldn't classify the book I was actually reading as either of those. It comes closer to Fight Club meets Fantasy. That kind of despondent, cynical, dysfunctional world with dysfunctional familes and dysfunctional coping mechanisms headed to a dysfunctional end - but without Christopher Titus to make it funny.