Thursday, July 9, 2015
Book Review: Disenchanted (Janet Ursel)
*Note: I received an ARC (advanced reader's copy) of Disenchanted in exchange for an honest review.
Genre: Fantasy (young adult)
Publisher: Vox Dei Publishing
Release date: July 14, 2015
In the late 1600s, a group of people who practice magic leave the world we know for an alternate Earth, where they can practice their magic and witchcraft and worship of false deities in peace, away from the true and only God. Anyone caught with Christian objects is immediately punished. Now, in the late 400s of Coventree, a flourishing country with magic in its veins, a baby boy is born. One destined to do great things for Coventree.
Blayn Goodwin is born with Truesight, an ability to detect falsehoods. His skills with this ability and in magic help him surge through the ranks of magic practitioners. In a world where the Nortlanders, a people who dabble in dark magic, are beginning to read up for attack, Blayn is called upon to help stabilize relationships and smooth over conflicts. But he is soon pitted against traitors all around. When Blayn discovers a book from the world of his ancestors that could provide the solution to once and for all ridding the world of these evil dark magicians, it changes his entire life.
Disenchanted is a story wrapped in mysteries the protagonist has few answers to, while readers are fairly well-informed from the start. The conflicts are slow to arrive, as the story takes place over the course of thirty years or so. But we follow Blayn as he builds his way up the social ladder, gaining knowledge and rising through each rank of magic, and we're given the necessary information we need for the plot. It takes us through Blayn's childhood and manhood, and we see him learn that there is truly only one God. As political tensions rise and as Blayn's knowledge expands, conflicts really begin to arise and an urgency to stop the enemy is felt.
Blayn's character develops nicely. He's a studious and curious man, but he loves his family very much. While he would in a heartbeat give up his entire future in magic for them, he listens to the advice of his wife, even though they both hate hiding their relationship (an irony in itself, from a man who can sense a falsehood). I appreciated that when Blayn at last turns from magic and false deities, his conversion wasn't immediately strong. He struggled as he learned. He has doubts and his faith shakes. He's grown up being taught magic, so it takes him some time to move through this change in his life.
The villain, Edgar, is also nicely brought up. He from the beginning is marked as a shady man, and as he gets further entangled in darkness, he also becomes very clever. His political maneuvering and manipulation is impressive and believable. His cunning puts him exactly where he needs to be, with the plan to bite the hand that feeds him.
The dialogue sometimes felt too modern, and I sometimes felt a little detached from the medieval atmosphere of the world. There were events that I felt could have been given more attention. For example, a certain character's death, I felt, ought to have been dealt with in more ways that what was done, considering the character's relationship to Blayn.
The worldbuilding is fascinating, however. With perhaps the exception of the country of Southland, the world is saturated in magic, and pretty much everything in life revolves around this magic. In Coventree, those who practice magic can work their way through the magic ranks, each with its own privileges. In Nortland, it's easy to feel the pure darkness that shrouds the country, the atmosphere becomes creepy when their magic is used. It was interesting to learn how thoroughly invested in magic this alternate world is, what they use the magic for, and learn which ranks were higher than others (although that did take time to understand).
Violence/gore: Three murders (none are very detailed). The death of another at the end may unsettle some readers. A skeleton with shriveled up skin and the hole in its skull where it was struck, and a character remembering seeing a chicken reduced to a puddle via magic may also unsettle some readers.
Profanity: "Ba"-word twice (once in the correct use). The phrase "ye gods" is used occasionally. D-word used a small handful of times.
Sexual content: Blayn's parents go off into the woods to make love out of wedlock, and Blayn sleeps with Morwen out of wedlock (but both are only mentioned. Nothing is described). The villain debates with himself which woman he could take to bed in order to get information. In Coventree in general magic practitioners have a habit of sleeping with each other haphazardly, and even with people with no magic. Women are left on their own, often with child, as loyalties for magicians cannot be divided between family and social duty. Men and women both sometimes try to catch the other's eye in a seductive manner or look at those of the opposite gender in vulgar ways.
Other: Witchcraft and false deities play a large part in the story. Beer is consumed. A very large amount of lying and deceiving is involved. Blayn's mother holds to the belief that witches (and the other females in higher magic ranks) ought to hold as much power as the men do, and not just to have children.