The Cup Of The World Paperback – 6 Jan 2005
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A beautifully-structured and powerfully-described fantasy novel set in medieval times.
The tautest, most realistic medieval fantasy you could wish for - and a towering achievement for a first novel. Filled with immense characters, this thrilling novel of moral complexity and vision announces the arrival of a special new writing talent. Phaedra, the beautiful daughter of a baron, has been visited in dreams by an elusive knight for almost as long as she can remember. And when his presence becomes a reality, she is forced to choose him and a new life over her home and her father. But this sets off a chain of events that she could not have foreseen - a battle between good and evil which is in turn violent and psychologically compelling. This stunning novel grapples with the huge themes of life, and turns the reader's expectations upside down again and again, with one vertiginous plunge after another.' Detailed, glowing rich and unforgettable' Jan Mark, Guardian' An intelligent novel from a new author who promises much more' Ink' Has the claustrophobic feel of a political and moral thriller that constantly surprises your expectations' Books For KeepsSee all Product description
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Dickinson has put considerable effort into researching the mediaeval "gothic" period, to create a realistic world of daily life, petty princes, warfare and monasteries, into which to place his story of magic. Writers, like Tolkien, who have such a coherent "back-story" are rare.
There is a realistic humanity to the characters. There is not the cannot-do-wrong hero or always-evil-baddie, (with the exception of some malign magical powers). Rather, whilst we have some clear heroes and enemies, all display only typical levels of self-interest, weakness, duplicity and generosity that any human will have. This is another level of sophistication rarely found in this genre.
Finally, the plot itself is sophisticated. There is no obvious best action that the hero has to choose. Rather, complexities are revealed to every action, as in the real world. Everyone desires unity to avoid war, but no one is willing to give up the power that they have.
On top of that is a page-turning plot that draws you in. Whilst the book stands on its own, the book ends with a tense situation that draws you in to the sequel.
Declaration of interest: the author is a friend of mine.
Phaedra gets telepathic whispers from someone she's never seen, who claims to fall in love with her. He lives in a land on the other side of the Circle Sea. She's a princess and he's a lord of his own land. Through long months they communicate, and come to understand each other so well that she decides to marry him.
Maybe she should have thought again....
Read this, enjoy it, then give it to your young teenage friends or kids. They use the internet to talk to people they don't know.
By turns tragic, grand and sometimes genuinely unsettling, 'The Cup Of The World' will satisfy both children and adults. On the surface is the story of a young woman caught in a web of love and war, politics and witchcraft; but there is a deeper story here, the history of a world that never was, questions about betrayal, vengeance and the loss of innocence. A truly worthwhile read.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Not an ordinary fantasy. The world setup is fairly standard - a continent with an inland sea, ringed with provinces & city-states, unstable politics and a king holding on by the fingernails. But the rulers came in ships, and there were aboriginal people, so there's a conflict rarely examined in fantasy. The hillmen (shades of Kipling perhaps?) have a mythology involving a Great Mother, quite different from the near-Christianity of Phaedra's people.
Phaedra is not an entirely sympathetic character, somewhat cold and self-centred (also only 15 in the first chapter) but with an inner core of toughness and endurance. What really stands out is how much of the story is what happens at home while the battles and raids and treaties are happening elsewhere, and how much of the intrigue and discovery is Phaedra's story and coming of age.
After Phaedra moves to the castle, the storyline becomes dark. She starts seeing shadows and people close to her die. She feels aliented from the servants and accosted by the ghosts/demons/whatever in the castle. She begins to question what dark powers exist in the castle and if her husband plays a role in them.
I haven't reached the end of this book (about 20 pages left to go,) but I really like this book because it's different than ones I have read. My favorite books are romantic fantasy with a female lead (Sharon Shinn - Angelica, Angel Seeker, Samaria; Robin McKinley - Blue Sword; Garth Nix - Abhorsen, Liriel, Sabriel.)
This book is different. It's not an overt fantasy. The "shadows" that Phaedra is seeing seem to be madness. Not only is the fantasy played down, but romance is not a large part of the story. The story displays the ups and downs of marriage as in Mists of Avalon. Phaedra suffers when her husband is gone at war for months. Friendships become important when her husband leaves and they eventually end up saving her.
Overall, the writing is good and the story is great. It's a realistic fantasy that becomes more and more fantastic at the end. I loved the friendships and relationships in this book.
Unusually, the story is told only from the central character's viewpoint; so wars happen and coups take place, but we only hear about them as and when Phaedra does, which can be a little disconcerting until one gets used to it. Aimed at the early teen audience, it is nevertheless enjoyable to the older reader.
An apparently simple plot; the teenage daughter of a powerful lord attends her coming-out presentation at court, only to spurn all advances in favour of her dream prince - literally, she has never laid eyes on him until he abducts her. Seemingly oblivious to the war she has just started she marries him and embraces her new existence with hardly a thought for the pain and turmoil she has left behind her, or for the strange society she now lives in. And, like a typical willful, insecure child, nothing suits her, everyone and everything conspires against her - you just want to give her a good smack!
But then, seemingly disparate threads come together with a sense of trepidation and foreboding to create a complex, compelling mediaeval tale in the old fantasy tradition. ****
I also thought that this author could have switched around narratives. This author is a very powerful one- he has the ability to switch around narratives, yet he doesn't. Because of this, we never got a lot of good insite to other characters thoughts and personalitys, except for from Phaedra one-sided, slightly biased view.
Overall, this book is great, especially, if you want to see what a rich fantasy plot looks like. In the way of personalities however-I would look to someone else for a good read in this area, such as JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter Books, or Juillet M. author of the Sevenwaters Trilogy, the first (and best) book being Daughter of the Forest.