Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Graeme Is Comfort Reading (Again!), ‘The Briar King’ – Greg Keyes (Tor UK/Del Rey)

Because as awesome as 'Heroes Die' is... Bloody hell it's dark! :o) Anyway...

Has it really been almost ten years since I first read ‘The Briar King’? That’s a rhetorical question by the way so don’t feel like you have to answer that one ;o) Time always moves on but a good book will last forever; ‘The Briar King’ is very much one of those for me and has become a book that has a permanent home on my shelves, a book that I will come back and dip into every year or so (the first book that I went to after ‘reading burn out’ killed the old blog). An excellent series opener which makes it more of a shame that the series didn’t end well at all; more on that another time as and when I get round to reading the other three books. Let’s just say that I’ve always said that Keyes can’t end a series…
Here’s some blurb to get you started,

In the kingdom of Crotheny, two young girls play in the tangled gardens of the sacred city of the dead where, fleeing an imaginary attacker, they discover the unknown crypt of a legendary, ancestral queen. In the wilds of the forest, while investigating the mass slaughter of an innocent family, the king's forester comes face-to-face with a monstrous beast found only in folk tales and nightmares.

Meanwhile, travelling the same road, a scholarly young priest begins his education in the nature of the evil that festers just beneath the surface of a seemingly peaceful realm. For the royal family is facing a betrayal that only sorcery can accomplish. And now, for three beautiful sisters, for a young man elevated to knighthood, and for countless others, a darkness is emerging to shatter all that once seemed certain, familiar, and good.

Numerous separate destinies will become entangled as malevolent forces stalk the land -- and the Briar King, that primeval harbinger of death, has awakened from his slumber.

‘The Briar King’ is a book that has detailed world-building leaking from every paragraph; a little bit Fae but touching our own world just enough to give readers enough of a hook to get into it. The fact that this hook eventually amounts to nothing does nothing to lessen the impact of ‘The Briar King’ overall. You’re already in the middle of a world where humanity thinks it has won the war but is living on borrowed time, down to its own politicking as much as an ancient curse hanging over the land. It’s a world rich in detail that I still find myself getting lost in (Keyes’ descriptions of the kingdom of Crotheny are lush) and it’s also a world where the shadows under the trees not only have teeth but can hurt you just by looking at you. There is plenty to see here and that’s before the story itself kicks off.

The plot, it has to be said, is nothing new with an ancient prophecy steadily coming to fruition while rival kingdoms bicker and a young princess starts to slowly move towards her destiny. Heard it before? Yep me too. Keyes lays it all out very well with moments of action acting as dramatic punctuation to the politicking, and setting up tense cliff-hangers , but it’s nothing new. Where Keyes does shine though is with the characters acting all of this out. They’re quite simply a pleasure to spend time with (Cazio and z’Acatto in particular), being drawn so well that even after several re-reads I still find myself with heart in mouth reading about Aspar White and Winna being chased through the forest by… Well, you’ll have to read that for yourself.

It’s funny then that while ‘The Briar King’ is a long term comfort read (and highly recommended by me) the same cannot be said for the three books that follow it. Maybe the rot set into the series a little earlier than I’m prepared to admit; I suspect the cause is the world building lessening over time and the reader just being left with the plot to contend with. I don’t know, I’ll have to read on and find out all over again, it’s a good journey to take.

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