The Battle of Evernight ~ Cecilia Dart-Thornton

  • Title: The Battle of Evernight
  • Author: Cecilia Dart-Thornton
  • Series: Bitterbynde #3
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  Once upon a time the great Faeran high king, Angavar, became trapped in mortal Erith along with his twin brother – and nemesis – Morragan ‘the Raven Prince’, when the gate to the Faeran Realm was closed on them. . . Now, many centuries later, the fugitive who calls herself Tahquil has at last discovered the truth. She is being hunted down by the Raven Prince because she alone can reopen the gate to the Fair Realm, so Morragan plans to use her for his escape from exile. However, Tahquil’s mind is still clouded by a potent spell called the Bitterbynde, and she is also dying from a mystical wasting disease. The cure, and the final answers to the mystery of her past, can only be found in Evernight – at the fortress of the Raven Prince himself.

Nothing can prepare Tahquil for the horror that is Evernight. Here magic rules, the sun is banished — and the Raven Prince’s whims shape the very nature of existence. As Morragan’s wights and Angavar’s knights become locked in a battle that could engulf all of Erith, Tahquil’s quest for the truth finally hinges on a desperate choice. If she opens the Gate, will she thereby save two worlds — or instead destroy everything she holds dear?

Review: Warning: this review contains spoilers for the first book, The Ill-Made Mute, and the second book, The Lady of the Sorrows.

This is the final book in the Bitterbynde trilogy, and while it was overall just as gripping and well-crafted as the second part, I’ll dock it a point for the unsatisfying ending. I was by this point also getting a little weary of the constant major revelations that keep changing your idea of who a major character is (which wasn’t confined to just the protagonist). To me, names are very important in a book, and I dislike it when the main character keeps changing theirs with every book you read.

So, Imrhien of book one, who changed her name to Rohain in book two without so much as a protest, turns out to really be Ashalind na Pendran, the Talith (blond) girl who was present when the gates to the faerie lands were closed forever, which locked out the Faeran king and his treacherous brother. Except for most of this book, Ashalind calls herself Tahquil, to avoid detection. With me so far?

Ashalind/Tahquil decided at the last moment to leave the faerie lands and go back to the normal world, but because she left it so late she became trapped inside the Gate of Oblivion’s Kiss at the moment of closing. This gives her the option of going either way, but once the gate then closes it will remain closed forever.

She chose the real world, but managed to wedge the door open, and is now on a quest to find the Faeran king, Angavar, to offer him the chance to return to his realm. However, because time runs at a different pace inside the faerie lands, a thousand years have passed on the outside, and Ashalind lost her memory due to the geas or bitterbynde – a kind of curse – that was placed on the Gate. If this is confusing, the previous book explained it all in far more detail.

Having regained her memory, Ashalind must now avoid capturing the attention of Morragan, Angavar’s brother, who was the one who caused the gates to be shut forever, and whose plot to try and lock out the king resulted in them both suffering that fate.

Ashalind’s memory has returned incompletely, and most of the book is devoted to her journey to try and find the location of the gate she left open. The trek covers weeks, and she is accompanied by her two courtly servants/friends, Caitri and Viviana, as they trudge through dangerous landscapes populated with unseelie creatures bent on their destruction. To make matters worse, the return of Ashalind’s memories has also meant the return of the Langothe, the debilitating homesickness for the faerie lands that affects all mortals who have visited it, and which will eventually kill her.

Further events in the book again involve major revelations, everything is taken yet another step higher, but the final section of the book was to me very unsatisfactory, and I would maybe even say unnecessary. There is a postscript from the author explaining the end, but that shouldn’t have been necessary, even if the explanation made the ending more satisfying.

I would still recommend this trilogy to anyone who isn’t afraid of glossing over unknown words – lots of them – and who wants a bittersweet tale of magical creatures in a world of vast, dangerous landscapes with a dollop of romance thrown in. That said, I would be lying if I ranked it among my favourite series.

The Lady of the Sorrows ~ Cecilia Dart-Thornton

  • Title: The Lady of the Sorrows
  • Author: Cecilia Dart-Thornton
  • Series: Bitterbynde #2
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: e-book
  • Source: Own copy
  • Reviewed by: Erica, Guest Reviewer
  • Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Description:  Though her memory remains clouded, Imrhien must take vital news to the King. As always, changes of fate and fortune occur and dangers threaten her very life.

Review: Warning: this review contains spoilers for the first book, The Ill-Made Mute.

 Wow, what a difference one book makes! This second part of the Bitterbynde trilogy is a much better effort than the often rather wordy and plodding first part. Where in book one the prose was frequently needlessly complicated and frustratingly obtuse, in this book the language is rich and powerfully evocative. It is still complicated, but the author seems to have found her voice and come into her stride, and I found this a gripping read from start to finish.

In book one we were introduced to Imrhien, a mute youth with a hideous face scarred by a plant called paradox ivy, and no memory of anything that happened before waking up in the bowels of Isse Tower. Midway through the book it was revealed that the lad was in fact a girl, and the book finished when she reached the one-eyed witch whose knowledge cured her facial disfiguration, which also restored her voice.

Thus presentable and able to speak her piece, Imrhien must travel to the royal court to inform the King-Emperor of the vast treasure she and the adventurer Sianadh discovered in book one. To remain inconspicuous she dyes her – very rare – blond hair, changes her name to Rohain and uses her newfound wealth to set herself up as a lady from a faraway region. In this disguise she gains audience with one of the king’s most trusted men, and the treasure is recovered, gaining Rohain a privileged position at the court. This in turn gives her the opportunity to try and find out what happened to Thorn, the brave Dainnan knight who protected her throughout the latter half of the first book.

To say more of the plot would give away too many major revelations, but as before the book is rich with creatures and stories of Celtic legend, and these are often interwoven with the main tale or interrupt it briefly.

About halfway through the book takes a major turn in a completely different direction, which is confusing at first but makes sense once you get to the end of the book. It is an unexpected twist, and it brings the scope of the book up considerably, compared to the first one. In a way it feels like the author wasn’t entirely sure where she was headed in the first book, and in only became clear in the second book.

I personally very much enjoyed this book, but it isn’t for anyone who likes their reading light and fluffy. The language is too complicated, often too old-fashioned to be easy going, and I could have done with a few less prithees and gramercies. I also suspect that I had an easier time with the world itself, as I have some background knowledge of many of the faerie creatures encountered throughout. Still, if you do not mind encountering unknown words and are ready for a very rich world of endless forests, vast stretches of landscape inhabited only by creatures both seelie and unseelie, and are ready for a story that keeps taking things up a level, this is a good book for you. You’ll just have to work your way through the plodding first book first, or you won’t have a clue what’s going on.

Thorn ~ Intisar Khanani

  • Title: Thorn
  • Author: Intisar Khanani
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Format: Kindle
  • Source: Own
  • Reviewed by: Olga
  • Rating: 4 out of 5

Description:  For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies—and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometimes the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

Review:  A retelling of a German fairy tale The Goose Girl.

This novel is one of the few that have left me divided. On one hand, it’s too intense, too emotionally grueling for my taste. I wanted the heroine, Princess Alyrra (aka Thorn), to have a respite, to have something working for her, but the author wouldn’t oblige. So in my head, I argued with her. I told her that she was wrong to subject Thorn to so many indignities. I told her that the test she devised for her hero, Prince Kestrin, was unfair and unnecessary cruel. I told her that Thorn behaved foolishly. She could’ve found an easier way to deal with her problems. I told her that Alyrra’s friend, Horse Falada, is an inadequate teacher. He knows stuff but he talks in riddles and never explains anything as a teacher should.

Unable to persuade the author and the book to take a gentler road, I did it myself. In my few short breaks from reading, I imagined alternative adventures for the heroes. I gave them additional options and widened their choices. I came to love and respect the heroes too much to trap them into tight corners, as the author has done. So I pleaded with the writer to be kinder, and I raved, and I cried, but I couldn’t stop reading. The novel wouldn’t let me. I felt compelled to finish it even though I can’t say that I enjoyed it. But I can say that I will remember it.

Subjectively, I don’t like so much suffering for the heroes. I like a lighter read. Objectively, I know that this was one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in some time. And I know that this writer is a master of her craft.

Besides my feeble squeaks fueled by compassion for the heroes, I have one serious editorial comment. There are two mysteries in the story that are revealed towards the end. They include the story of Valka’s hatred towards Alyrra and the story of the Lady’s hatred towards Kestrin. Both should’ve been explained in the beginning of the novel. The hatred of those two antagonists drives the plot, but for three quarters of the book, it doesn’t make sense, and the reader wonders where it comes from. What could humble, inoffensive Alyrra have done to deserve it?

Besides that one objection, there are only a few typos to distract the reader from this rich, soulful story. It’s powerful and cathartic; and the cover is gorgeous. I recommend it to anyone who likes fantasy.