Clay (Vector Theory and the Plot Structures of Literature and Drama, 2005) takes readers into a fantasy world steeped in tradition.
In this novel, magic and dragons are commonplace, gods and goddesses take an active role in the lives of mortals, and poets are high-ranking, powerful individuals. The story opens with the birth of the princess Tristabe-airta, and follows the young girl as she grows up, recounting her education and the events and antics of the royal household. Her mother dies early, and Tristabe-airta is raised by different caregivers. Her father, the king, adores her but takes a less active parenting role, as he’s kept busy by his royal duties; he also sometimes takes the form of a dragon and pursues occasional romances. The girl’s uncle, the Lord High Poet, is also involved in her upbringing, however. A large, colorful cast of royal household members and royal subjects add both humor and drama to Tristabe-airta’s tale. An age-old story of interpersonal relations lies at the heart of this story, although readers must wade through flowery language and a dense mythology (“Now that Freyzun was king and Throne of Allsongs and Prince Gawain a returned penitent, one of those two sibling ollaves was lately dead, leaving a baby in memento of her love of her kingly husband”) to find it. The novel includes appendices at the back of the book to help readers keep the many characters straight, as well as the different seasons and days, traditions and customs, and dragons and deities. The highly episodic plot describes a series of challenges that beset the young princess and the kingdom at large as she learns how to wield her magical powers, as when the Princess Burta, the daughter of the king’s cousin, is kidnapped, and Tristab-airta cooly saves her by making her invisible. The story’s distant, third-person narration is prone to somewhat fanciful stylistic flourishes (“The ominous stillness was broken by a pretty trilling of a morning dove”) that tend to slow down the narrative. There are many humorous elements, however—including the fact that every character, from the king to the servants, seems to place a high value on cuteness—which add levity to an otherwise complex tale. Although the book ends on a down note, it promises more books to come.
A dense but entertaining first novel in a planned fantasy series.