The Literary Horizon: Ink and Steel, The Poison Throne

No matter how balanced I try to make my reading diet, fantasy dominates a fair portion of my reading list, which is why it’s featured on The Literary Horizon so much! This week, we’re looking at two fantasy novels released in 2008–one from an established veteran, and the debut novel of another author.

Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear

Kit Marley, playwright and spy in the service of Queen Elizabeth, has been murdered. His true gift to Her Majesty was his way with words, crafting plays infused with a subtle magic that maintained her rule. He performed this task on behalf of the Prometheus Club, a secret society of nobles engaged in battle against sorcerers determined to destroy England. Assuming Marley’s role is William Shakespeare— but he is unable to create the magic needed to hold the Queen’s enemies at bay.

Resurrected by enchantment in Faerie, Marley is England’s only hope. But before he can assist Will in the art of magic, he must uncover the traitor among the Prometheans responsible for his death…

via Penguin Group

Elizabeth Bear is one of those authors that I’ve heard about, but can never really quite pin down. She does, however, appear twice on my reading list (as of now, since it apparently considers rabbits a direct threat to its dignity). I came across Ink and Steel at Richard’s Variety Store in Atlanta, which is the most determinedly eclectic establishment I’ve ever encountered. Let’s face it, the premise sounds awesome–any speculative fiction that includes Elizabeth I is good by me. Ink and Steel is one of Bear’s Promethean Age novels, which are centered around the idea that all stories are true. Along with Hell and Earth, it makes up a duology which Bear claims can be read independent of each other. I only think that’s true when the novels are concurrent, so I’m going to start with Ink and Steel.

Joe Sherry from Adventures in Reading has nothing but praise for Ink and Steel, especially praising Bear’s courage in not shying away from bad things happening to her characters even if they’re beloved literary figures. Mervi from Mervi’s Book Reviews loves the political intrigue and the worldbuilding of the Fae, and points out Kit’s romance with a male Fae, which is just icing on the cake at this point. I think I’m definitely going to enjoy this one.

Ink and Steel was released on July 1, 2008.

The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

This compelling trilogy of court intrigue, adventure and romance is a winning combination of imagination, powerful storytelling and magnificent characters.

Fifteen-year-old Wynter Moorehawke returns home after a five-year sojourn in the bleak Northlands. All has changed in her absence. Wynter is forced to make a terrible choice: stay and bow to the King’s will, or abandon her ailing father and join her friend Razi and the mysterious Christopher Garron in their efforts to restore the fragile kingdom to its former stability. But this changed kingdom is a dangerous place, where all resistance is brutally suppressed and the trio constantly risk assassination, torture or imprisonment.

Atmospheric and intriguing, evokes an enchanting and convincing other world – love, treachery, jealousy, tenderness, war, wisdom and court life are all vividly depicted.

Set in a fantastical medieval Europe, The Poison Throne is a gothic tale of intrigue, adventure and romance which draws the reader in from the very first sentence and doesn’t loosen its grip until the last.

via O’Brien Press

I have to admit, the cover and its text definitely drew me in, because I initially thought it referred to a female royal putting country before self (which I am always on like white on rice). But I also have to admit that I initially passed it by–the idea that YA fantasy is a crossover of genres, the care the summary takes to point out it’s a “fantasical medieval Europe” (gee, never seen that before oh wait), and the fact that her name is misspelled all just sort of bug me. But when I saw the second installment receive a glowing review in Publishers Weekly, my resolve faltered–I could at least read the first one, right?

Aimee at my fluttering heart loved it, despite not being a fan of high fantasy, especially praising Kiernan’s fully fleshed out characters and all the court intrigue. Valentina at Valentina’s Room has much the same to say, although she does point out that as the first installment in a trilogy, there are no real conclusions. I consider not making a novel in a set a complete novel wildly lazy, so this might be a hit or miss book, especially if I’m reading the word “Wynter” every so often, but I’m still eager to read it, to see where I stand.

The Poison Throne was released in Ireland on September 25, 2008, and in America on April 7, 2010.

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