- Title: The Ill-Made Mute
- Author: Cecilia Dart-Thornton
- Series: Bitterbynde #1
- Genre: Fantasy
- Format: Paperback
- Source: Own copy
- Reviewed by: Erica, Guest Reviewer
- Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Description: A lushly romantic epic adventure of stunning scope and magical proportions, set in a world brimming with wonders and terrors.
Review: I bought this book on the recommendation of a friend, and while I liked it, it took me a while to really get into it. The book’s title is its protagonist – a child who has been left to die out in the cold, and while trying to crawl to safety it fell face-first into a patch of paradox ivy, which has scarred and mutilated it to hideousness. On top of that he has lost his memory, as well as the powers of speech.
A cruel start, and a good part of the book is spent on regaling the circumstances in which the mute finds himself once he is rescued by a lowly kitchen servant. You get a sense of the world in which the people live – a world where the members of the ten Stormrider Houses traverse the world on eotaurs: flying horses used to transport messages and small cargo. The horses cannot fly purely of their own accord, but this world possesses a unique metal, sildron, which repels the earth and is used to shoe the horses with. Sildron is also used to keep great airships aloft, and these are used to transport the larger cargo.
After a rather long time spent on describing the nameless mute’s drudgery within Isse Tower, where he is subject to constant derision and revulsion, the boy finally decides to escape, and stows himself away on one of the airships.
At this point the book picks up a little in pace, for the mute fiends a friend in the wandering adventurer Sianadh, who not only gives him a name (Imrhien), but also teaches him to speak with his hands. They go in search for a legendary treasure, and have to travel through dangerous landscape in order to find it.
This book borrows heavily from Celtic lore, not so much its myths and legends, but its fairy lore. Creatures in this world are either unseelie, ie. malevolent, or seelie. Seelie creatures aren’t malevolent in intent, but even they can be dangerous when approached incorrectly. In addition to this the world is often visited by so-called ‘shang unstorms’ – eerie storms which carry images from long past, which were imprinted on them by strong emotions from people who were caught in earlier unstorms. To protect people, everyone is required to wear a taltry, a hood which contains a mesh made of the metal talium, which prevents such emotional imprints from being made.
All this becomes fully clear only after you’ve read at least half the book, and until then it can be slow going. The prose is flowery, complicated, often excessively so, and while I have no inherent problem with encountering words I’ve never seen before, in this book I often wasn’t certain whether the words even existed or whether they were made up. Also, in the section with Sianadh in the wilderness, where they constantly bump into creatures both seelie and unseelie, it became a bit repetitive to see Sianadh fall for their tricks every time, even after professing to know all about such creatures.
Still, the book is worth sticking with, because the last third becomes truly interesting, and the book leaves off on a cliffhanger which immediately made me buy the next book in this trilogy, even though I have about fifteen other books in my ‘to read’ pile. I think the reader should keep in mind that this is a debut novel in which the author was still finding her feet, but the concept and richness of the world are intriguing enough to overlook that fact.