Author: Midori Snyder
Description: This was a re-read of a book read some time before joining Goodreads. I didn’t remember anything about the story other than I had enjoyed it at the time, and in fact was pleased to find I enjoyed it this time too, although in places the writing is a little clunky, for example, the writer often uses a character’s name when ‚he‘ or ’she‘ would be sufficient, and on occasion does a bit of head hopping within a scene. However, the strengths of the narration and characterisation overcame these minor issues.
To briefly summarise, the book is set in the country of Oran in the capital Beldan. Many years ago the Queen, seemingly immortal, invited in the armies of Silea, a militaristic country which we assume is nearby, to put down a rebellion or war now termed the Burning. Apart from a few whispers among the descendants of certain groups within the population which go counter to the version of the Burning given by the Queen, the real story of what had happened has been supressed. Gradually an inkling arises that makes it clear to the reader that the Queen is far from blameless, and in fact her conduct makes it clear that she is a ruthless murderer and oppressor of her own people, collaborating in the tyranny imposed by the Sileans.
For the gift of Oran is that many of the population had psychic gifts aligned with the four elements or Quarters – water, air, earth and fire. A Naming ritual imposed since the Burning means that to get work all children of the ruled classes have to be examined by Readers – a family who have collaborated with the Regime to retain their privileges as nobility. Any child found to have the aura of one of the gifts is hanged. The only person allowed officially to have a gift is the Queen herself: fire gifted and supposedly the only individual alive with such a gift. The rest are all air, water or earth related.
Things have been going badly in Oran in recent years with failed harvests, worsening oppression and grinding poverty. Unsuprisingly, this gives rise to a resistence known as the New Moon. The activities of the rebels are then made the excuse for appalling reprisals as are seen late in the story. And in addition to the officially sanctioned murders of the gifted, an individual known to the city’s teams of thieves as the Upright Man, has his own reasons for pursuing them.
The strengths of this story apart from the inventiveness of the world building is the characterisation, especially of the thieves and street children, and other working people. Slightly misleadingly, the book begins with the viewpoint of one of the Readers but it soon switches, and he only has a small part in the story. The main character is Jobber, a gangling adolescent brought up on the streets by a now deceased vagger – vaggers are a group of people who roam the land preserving elements of the ancient and suppressed Oran religion and also various fighting skills – and there are major parts played in the story by a woman who is trying to keep alive certain children whom she knows have gifts, and a Gazali woman, another of the groups who used to have a major role before the Burning, and who has an air gift. We also see enough of the Queen, the Silean Regent and his adviser to gain an impression of their indifference to or even enjoyment of the cruelty inflicted on the general populace. The street people have their own slang and the life of the city is well depicted. There is also a great twist about half way through which I will not spoil.
All in all a very enjoyable read, only held back from a full five stars by the little bit of uneveness in writing mentioned above.
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