The Briar King (Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone) Paperback – Unabridged, 2 Jul 2004
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The Briar King opens Greg Keyes' four-volume fantasy sequence "Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone". Besides being highly readable, the novel offers an intriguingly tangled plot and back-story that rises well above the black-and-white simplicities of commercial fantasy.
A prelude of magical battle and hard-won victory over hated slave masters strikes a note of doom as it's suggested that the coming Golden Age is already poisoned by misuse of magic at its founding. Next, a much later historian's note records that "In the year 2,223 E, the age of Everon came to an abrupt and terrible end." This is the year in which the main narrative begins.
It's a time of late-medieval kingdoms, with credible political tension and devious diplomacy. In the kingdom of Crotheny, something is very wrong in the royal forest--signalled by the forest warden's sighting of a "greffyn". Both like and unlike the griffin of myth, this creature's mere presence poisons streams with a deadly contamination that lingers and can be passed on by touch.
Something is rotten in the Church, too, where a gifted novice monk finds himself translating ancient, unspeakable texts that should have been left in decent obscurity. Other kinds of wrongness fester at court, with shifting tensions among the mostly likeable members of a dysfunctional royal family, increasing political pressure from outside and genuinely shocking treason within. When a knight of the Queen's most trusted personal guard abruptly tries to kill her, there seems to be no safety anywhere. Not even in the well-defended "coven" or convent to which the youngest, most wilful princess is despatched to be trained as an assassin-nun.
As a variety of neatly-drawn characters pursue personal feuds, vendettas, love affairs, comic pratfalls, escape plans and paths to advancement, there are repeated hints that the land itself--defiled by sinister rituals of desecration--is dying. The greffyn and the appalling Briar King of prophecy seem to be symptoms rather than the real disease.
The Briar King is a strong start to what promises to be a gripping fantasy sequence. --David Langford --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A wonderful tale . . . It crackles with suspense and excitement from start to finish."--TERRY BROOKS "STARTS OFF WITH A BANG, spinning a snare of terse imagery and compelling characters that grips tightly and never lets up. . . .A graceful, artful tale from a master storyteller."--ELIZABETH HAYDON Bestselling author of "Prophecy: Child of Earth ""THE CHARACTERS IN "THE BRIAR KING" ABSOLUTELY BRIM WITH LIFE. . . . Keyes hooked me from the first page and I'll now be eagerly anticipating sitting down with each future volume of The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone series."--CHARLES DELINT Award-winning author of "Forests of the Heart "and "The Onion Girl ""A THRILL RIDE TO THE END, WITH PLENTY OF TREACHERY, REVELATION, AND EVEN A FEW BOMBSHELL SURPRISES."--"Monroe News-Star "(LA)See all Product description
Top customer reviews
There's one thing for sure, however. Greg Keyes shows great skill in jumping from scene to scene and ending each chapter with a cliffhanger. Seldom is there a dull moment as every chapter is filled to the brim with action and fresh developments to keep readers at the edge of their seats. Numerous sword fights, boy-meets-girl encounters, political intrigues, and man vs. monsters matches keep the page turning.
Keyes succeeds in creating characters that you get to care about: a royal forester, a rebellious princess, a naieve priest, a young man who is suddently turned into the queen's protector, and a roguish adventurer to name but a few. You are advised not to get too attached to any of them, however, as the author does not hesitate to kill his characters whenever the plot dictates.
If you're on the lookout for another fantasy series to get your teeth into while waiting for the next Martin or Jordan novel, give this a go. The Briar King grips from the first chapter and never lets go. The final chapter ties up just enough loose ends to satisfy those expecting a conclusion but it also makes promises of even greater things to come.
Review by Antonio Pineda
Oh, you want me to tell you why you should read it? Ok. Keyes has created a masterpiece with vivid characters, an interesting overarching plot, and a doom from the dawn of time. This is not your ordinary doom from the dawn of time, though. The Briar King is a force of nature that is never truly understood, something that's called forth to wreak havoc on the land, changing this world into its own gruesome image. With this book, Keyes is well on his way to reshaping that world. We follow a disparate group of characters, including a king, his queen, a young knight who becomes her protector, a couple of princesses, and a fencer who becomes infatuated with one of those princesses. On the other hand, we have the guardian of the King's Forest, his lover, and a monk who finds himself translating some very ancient, and very evil, documents, much to the detriment of the world, not to mention his own skin. A conspiracy is afoot throughout the land, one which may bring down an entire royal family, and one which may result in the death of everybody. Everywhere. Treachery abounds, and nobody is safe. Will the coming of the Briar King make this all moot?
Keyes does almost everything right in The Briar King. He switches settings with a deftness I haven't seen in quite a while, leaving each scene just when it's starting to get good. This causes the reader to read the traditional "just one more chapter" to find out what's going on. I average about one hundred pages a day usually, and I know I at least doubled that with this book. Every character is completely three dimensional, with the exception of Fend, one of the villains of the piece. I found him a bit flat, but otherwise, all of the characters are interesting. Keyes also takes the story in some unexpected directions. A love affair that seems very predictable doesn't, in fact, happen. There are some daring escapes, but each one is plausible, not stretching that oh-so-important suspension of disbelief that some fantasy novels break constantly. Each character has a completely understandable motivation that keeps the book moving at a lightning pace.
Keyes also does a wonderful job of world-building. The map is beautiful (he credits Kirk Caldwell for it) and the land is populated with a dazzling array of cultures, all of them suitably human but different enough that you can tell the difference. One area, Vitellio, is clearly patterned after medieval Italy, even down to the names which sound pseudo-Italian. This has the double benefit of giving you an idea what the culture is like but it's just different enough. He also has a talent for languages. The language in Vitellio is one example, but others have been made up as well. He even goes so far as to invent dialects and slang for some of the people.
Finally, I have to compliment Keyes on the prose in the book. The imagery is amazing and the action scenes are extremely well choreographed. They are realistic, and blood does flow vividly, but he's not so graphic that heads are bouncing all over the place (though one or two of them do). Whether it's a quiet scene or a loud scene with swords bouncing off of plate armour, Keyes does a great job with it. Here's an example:
"Asper White opened his eyes to a vaulted stone ceiling and a distant, singsong litany. Fever crawled like centipedes beneath his skin, and when he tried to move, his limbs felt like rotting fern fronds." Pg 382
Best of all, Keyes is not afraid to kill any of his characters. Some people think that George R.R. Martin is sadistic to his characters! The body count is quite high, but none of the deaths are gratuitous. Each one fits the story perfectly, though some are quite perfunctory. Even these, however, don't feel out of place. Instead, they are realistic. While there are heroic escapes (and, admittedly, a couple of rather unrealistic ones), it's never a certainty that the viewpoint character will make it out of the scene alive. Sometimes, a death is just a death.
The Briar King is one of the best fantasy books I've read since Jennifer Fallon's series, and I think it even surpasses them. Everything just comes together in a rich whole, making a juicy treat that will taste good with every bite. And the best thing is, when you finish it, you can pick up the second book and wolf that one down too. Sadly, it will be close to a year before the final book is out.
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