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The Lady of the Sorrows: Book 2 of The Bitterbynde Trilogy Paperback – 3 Jan 2003
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Second volume in The Bitterbynde Trilogy, a marvellously colourful and imaginative fantasy debut. Though her memory remains clouded by sorcery, Imrhien (heroine of THE ILLMADE MUTE) must take vital news to the King-Emperor of Caermelor, hoping also to find there the fearless ranger who has won her heart. She assumes the identity of 'Rohain', a noblewoman visiting from the distant Sorrow Isles, but finds the King and his rangers heading off to battle the Unseelie hordes. Meanwhile, awaiting their return, the newcomer must survive in a court where treachery and deceit are as deadly as any eldritch peril. Worse still, attacks by nightmare monsters of the Wild Hunt grow ever more frequent and brutal, and when evil forces lay siege to the royal sanctuary on a hidden mystic island, she realises with horror that she herself is the real target of these onslaughts -- but has no idea why.
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Wow, what a difference one book makes! This second part of the Bitterbynde trilogy is a much better effort than the often rather wordy and plodding first part. Where in book one the prose was frequently needlessly complicated and frustratingly obtuse, in this book the language is rich and powerfully evocative. It is still complicated, but the author seems to have found her voice and come into her stride, and I found this a gripping read from start to finish.
In book one we were introduced to Imrhien, a mute youth with a hideous face scarred by a plant called paradox ivy, and no memory of anything that happened before waking up in the bowels of Isse Tower. Midway through the book it was revealed that the lad was in fact a girl, and the book finished when she reached the one-eyed witch whose knowledge cured her facial disfiguration, which also restored her voice.
Thus presentable and able to speak her piece, Imrhien must travel to the royal court to inform the King-Emperor of the vast treasure she and the adventurer Sianadh discovered in book one. To remain inconspicuous she dyes her - very rare - blond hair, changes her name to Rohain and uses her newfound wealth to set herself up as a lady from a faraway region. In this disguise she gains audience with one of the king's most trusted men, and the treasure is recovered, gaining Rohain a privileged position at the court. This in turn gives her the opportunity to try and find out what happened to Thorn, the brave Dainnan knight who protected her throughout the latter half of the first book.
To say more of the plot would give away too many major revelations, but as before the book is rich with creatures and stories of Celtic legend, and these are often interwoven with the main tale or interrupt it briefly.
About halfway through the book takes a major turn in a completely different direction, which is confusing at first but makes sense once you get to the end of the book. It is an unexpected twist, and it brings the scope of the book up considerably, compared to the first one. In a way it feels like the author wasn't entirely sure where she was headed in the first book, and in only became clear in the second book.
I personally very much enjoyed this book, but it isn't for anyone who likes their reading light and fluffy. The language is too complicated, often too old-fashioned to be easy going, and I could have done with a few less prithees and gramercies. I also suspect that I had an easier time with the world itself, as I have some background knowledge of many of the faerie creatures encountered throughout. Still, if you do not mind encountering unknown words and are ready for a very rich world of endless forests, vast stretches of landscape inhabited only by creatures both seelie and unseelie, and are ready for a story that keeps taking things up a level, this is a good book for you. You'll just have to work your way through the plodding first book first, or you won't have a clue what's going on.
Now that the old carlin Maeve One-Eye has healed Imrhien, restored her beauty and her voice, but not her memory, the young woman can travel to the royal city of Caermelor in order to deliver to the King-Emperor the secret message of the treasure found at Waterstairs. She goes there disguised as Rohain Tarrenys, Lady of the Sorrows, the distant islands or Severnesse. Alas, the King-Emperor is not at court but has gone to battle against the army of unseelie beings who have declared war on humankind. She has no choice but to wait, try and find clues about her past, and look for the mysterious Dainnan warrior Thorn whom she's fallen for.
But for Imrhien it's hard to blend in, with the constant threat of the courtiers seeing through her disguise if she doesn't learn their manners fast. Luckily, she soon makes friends with her maid Viviana, who starts to teach her slingua (a made-up court-language).
Seeing that the King-Emperor is not coming back any time soon, she decides to make for Isse Tower, where she used to be known as the Ill-Made Mute, to meet those among whom she used to live and gather information on her former life. There she makes an astounding discovery, but her happiness is short-lived. Indeed, after an attack by the unseelie hordes, she comes to understand she might actually be the target of Huon the Hunter and his Wild Hunt.
Even though I found that the heroin's name changed too often, I liked this middle-volume better than the previous one. For one part it is not as over-written, but its pace is also faster. The plot is more captivating, with a romantic first half and intriguing, albeit predictable ending chapters, in which the story shifts to another place and time when the legendary Faêran still roamed the land of Erith.
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