By Greg Keyes
Two thousand years ago, the Born Queen defeated the Skasloi lords, freeing humans from the bitter yoke of slavery. But now monstrous creatures roam the land—and destinies become inextricably entangled in a drama of power and seduction. The king’s woodsman, a rebellious girl, a young priest, a roguish adventurer, and a young man made suddenly into a knight—all face malevolent forces that shake the foundations of the kingdom, even as the Briar King, legendary harbinger of death, awakens from his slumber. At the heart of this many-layered tale is Anne Dare, youngest daughter of the royal family . . . upon whom the fate of her world may depend.
The Briar King is one of those delightful books that slowly grows on you. It starts off a bit slow, gaining in momentum, until you look up and it is 3am, and you kick yourself for all those "just one more chapter..." moments.
Not only does the story grow on you, but most of the characters do too. Notice I said most. There were a few characters that I never got in touch with, but overall I was happy with the characterization. Actually, I feel that way about the entire book. The story was great, though in some places I felt a bit lost. The world building was equally good, though again, some parts left me a bit confused. The interesting thing is, it all balanced. I cannot think of a single area, pacing, characterization, world building, or plot that strikes me as being exceptional when compared to other areas. There were plot twists I saw coming, and there were some that left me stunned. There were characters I loved, or hated, and others I wished I knew better. There are questions asked and answered and questions left hanging in the air. All I know is that together, it all worked and was more then enough to make me read that "one more chapter..."
The Briar King is a nicely sized, medium length book that takes you into a world full of superstition and mythology. (Funny how 600 page books are "medium" length now. In my younger days, I would consider this book HUGE.) Anyway, one of the things that I really enjoyed about this story is how mythology, local legend and children's songs are used to lay the foundation of a world in deep trouble but largely unaware of this fact. As you go through the story, you discover (along with the characters) that stories believed to be mere fairytales and nonsense are actually grounded in fact. It is a great device for world building! It is somewhat sneaky too. I have a bad habit of skimming over poems, rhymes, and song lyrics. I cannot carry a tune in a bucket much less compose a poem so music and poetry are normally lost on me. Fortunately, these are kid’s songs so even I can understand them! Sad huh....
Overall, there is alot to love about this story. You have romance, mystery, danger, nasty politics, scary monsters, narrow escapes, and likable characters. Though there are a few fantasy tropes (the naive monk, the stoic woodsman, the devoted knight, and the rebellious princess), there are enough deviations to the norm to make things interesting. You will not find dragons (darn it!) or wizards but you will find plenty of heroes and villains. Content wise, there is adultery, murder, and plenty of violence. Pretty typical fare for epic fantasy and nothing that breaks the X barrier. High School age and up is a safe bet for this one.
I believe that this series is going to end up being one of those "must haves" for any dedicated fantasy fan. Well balanced, fun and scary, tragic and sweet with a dose of humor thrown in for good measure. Great book for weekend reading so you do not end up being all bleary eyed for work the next day! Now I am off to read book two since book one leaves you hanging. Stay tuned for the next review!
Other books in the series
Shelfari Rating 4/5
Librarything Rating 3.92/5
Amazon Rating 4+ out of 5 stars
(107 Customer Reviews)
What Should I Read Next?
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