13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Rich, unusual historical fantasy,
This review is from: Golden Key (Paperback)
I was attracted to this book by Melanie Rawn's involvement, having enjoyed her Dragon Prince/Dragon Star trilogies a great deal for their dry wit, excellent characterisation and compelling plotting. I had only a vague idea of what it was about before I started reading - but once I did, I was completely entranced.
The multi-generational novel is set in a world with a strong feel of Renaissance or early modern Spain. While never leaning too much on its real-world counterpart, the inspiration permeates all levels, immeasurably enriching the book. It is glimpsed most obviously in the characters' names, fashions and the oaths that pepper their speech. More subtly, it infuses the religious practices, behaviour (there is a strong emphasis on family honour and female modesty), and recent history - the novel opens a little after a long war with a religiously-inclined nomadic people, an obvious but not overstated parallel with the Moors.
The central conceit of the novel lies in the social and administrative role of portraiture in the state of Tira Verte, where it is used to record everything from marriage contracts to wills to treaties between nations. Those whose paintings are most highly valued enjoy considerable political and personal influence, and their style becomes something to imitate by those who follow them. A few, in secret, are able to wield more than mere influence with their brushes.
The story follows the fortunes of two noble families, and the consequences of one rashly destructive act (try to ignore the synopsis on the back of the book, which gives this act away), through several generations. Throughout, not only the story but also the world progress naturally and fascinatingly, as artistic fashions change and the society develops and diversifies. It is told in three parts, with each author taking one generation of characters - respectively: Roberson, Rawn, and Elliot. Melanie Rawn's section is the stand-out, but all three are highly accomplished pieces of writing, gripping and fluent as they tackle themes as varied as the relationship between art and artist, the moral responsibility of power, and the position of women in a highly-regulated society.