3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Haunting, dark, and full of stunning secrets,
This review is from: The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (Erebus Sequence) (Hardcover)
This debut novel takes place on the island of Landfall, in the castle of Demesne where the mysterious and never-seen king resides, with the skeletal and intimidating Majordomo as his mouthpiece. Four noble houses politely bristle alongside one another within the castle, sometimes not as politely as is expected. The creepy Sanatoria, resting place of madwomen, exists in their midst but nobody speaks about it or its unseen inmates. Outside of this decadent and richly appointed castle, the commoners of Landfall have little to rejoice in, working hard to support the wealthy, with all the resentment you might expect of that. And then there are the Orfani: foundlings given into the keeping of the noble houses, afforded the privilege of good clothing, rich meals, private tutoring and the attentive guardianship of the servants. The Orfani are superstitiously viewed as streghe, witchlings, because nobody knows where they come from, nobody knows what happened to the older generations of Orfani that are remembered by the adults of Demesne but never spoken of, and each of the Orfani are deformed in noticeable and sometimes quite shocking ways.
The protagonist is Lucien di Fontein, a young Orfano trying to be admitted to the warlike house of Fontein permanently, and the novel follows his travails and tribulations as he uncovers deeply disturbing things about the constrained environment of Demesne that has always been his home. Lucien is a great protagonist, sympathetic, longing for love and acceptance, humiliated and ashamed of his deformities which mark him as Other and earn him whispered derision, single-minded, reckless, impulsive, hot-headed, with all these flaws having realistic consequences when he makes bad decisions based on them. I do agree with Tom Pollock's review of "Locke Lamora meets Gormenghast" and would add that like Perdido Street Station and Full Metal Alchemist, things here and not what they appear and significantly darker and sometimes grisly - not in an overtly gory way but the insidious creeping horror that gets inside you and won't leave.
Readers who don't like a non-linear narrative may struggle, because the novel is split into alternating chapters of the present timeline and the past which eventually join at the end of the novel. I personally enjoy this as a great revelatory device, because it keeps the reader continuously revising their opinions of what's really going on, who the characters really are, and what they actually know. Lucien's understanding runs deeper than the first few chapters of the present time might suggest.
I think this is gold. I'll be awaiting the next in the series!