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Moth and Spark Paperback – 20 Feb 2014
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Fun and beautifully crafted. The novel is something like a Russian nesting doll: it's a Jane Austen novel inside a Princess Bride type fantasy romp inside a much darker Tolkein-esque story of politics, war, magic, and dragons. An impressive debut (Charlie Lovett, New York Times bestselling author of The Bookman’s Tale)
Anne has the talent to draw us into the action while still demonstrating romantic sensitivity (The Bookbag)
A thrilling quest, forbidden love and an Empire on the brink. Moth and Spark is The Princess Bride meets Game of Thrones ... with a dash of Jane Austen.See all Product description
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The blurb does the book no favours - young prince chosen for a magical task, meets beautiful young commoner with magical abilities of her own, they fall in lurve, and the future of mankind rests on their young shoulders... Mmmm - true to a tiny point, but this is much deeper, much... more! For a start our hero is 25 - not a youth, and our heroine an educated, intelligent, 20 year old (yeah, yeah, so she's breathtakingly beautiful, but she's refreshingly unaware of that fact).
Corin is the only prince of Caithen. Bad things are looming, allies are failing to step up to the mark, and Caithen's ruler is feeling somewhat exposed. In the midst of this, Corin is battling with inexplicable memory lapses, an inability to talk about certain topics, his father's dog suddenly attacking him, and other odd occurrences. Then he meets Tam - literally bumps into her, and both are instantly smitten. No fool, she knows what being courted by royalty means for a commoner, but she accepts his invitation to dinner any way...
The fist quarter is setting up and just as I was beginning to think get on with it, it got on and became gripping and things move along briskly. Corin's strange mental shift are explained, and Tam acquires some odd abilities of her own - question is, are they both being manipulated to another's end? And can they do anything about it if they are - or do they even want to?
There are some pretty important supporting characters who generally stay rather remote - they contribute to their scenes then go - not people we learn about in any depth, and there are the dragons - seeking their freedom and with no humanity or compassion about them.
Corin and Tam are a fine pair to carry to story - they're principled and intelligent and in love - I'm not giving much away by that. Their love is a strong constant through most of the book - this isn't a romance with pitfalls and conflict thrown in to trip up the love story. There's plenty going on without needing that. The author lets her characters fall for each other, and then stay smitten, supporting each other all the way.
So, at some levels this is classic, classical fantasy. But that isn't enough of a descriptin. The author at the end thanks Jane Austen, " whose language I liberally borrowed." so that should give some idea of the style of writing here - it's nicely descriptive - for example:
"Her name is Alina. Her father is a baron in Kariss."
Kariss. Farmland, but poor soil.
Sort of dooms poor Alina doesn't it?!
I enjoyed this, will read it again, and would love to hear the audiobook version, if there ever is one. The language here is something to be taken slowly and I'm a bolt-reader. Well worth trying.
Anne Leonard's writing style fluctuates as the opening chapters come across stronger and more polished than the heart of the novel, yet overall the entire book is solid. Corin is nicely established in the opening chapters as a capable leader and a young man with a good heart who struggles to deal with his obligations. Tam is similarly established as a strong, young, and clever woman who aspires to rise above her caste. Both characters are a bit too perfect, and to some extent annoyingly so...
"...with the most astonishingly beautiful face he had ever seen. She was a well-bred and well-educated young woman, even an accomplished one. She spoke three languages besides her own and could draw, sing, play the piano, and do embroidery, all of it inoffensively. She could converse on poetry and morals with equal grace. She had improved her mind by extensive reading. But her education did not end there. She dressed wounds, mixed medicines, sat by the dying. She helped her father with his experiments and his writings. When he saw something interesting under the glass, it was she who drew the picture for him. She had done other work too, assisting her brother with his accounts, shipping lists."
....she even manages to sit so incredibly still or is such a beautiful creature "that a butterfly landed briefly on the flower in her hair."
I like fantasy and imagination as much as the next person...but come on!
With that said, their romance story plays out well, even if it is rushed. The dialogue between them is natural, even amusing at times. However, the court intrigue and military drama surrounding them, isn't nearly as strong or as detailed. There were glimpses here and there of a solid high-fantasy core, but Leonard always seemed to pull back just as I was getting into things. To be fair, that element clearly is not the focus here, but it did have an impact on how the story read. The final chapters move along at a great pace, with some genuine moments of dramatic tension, and the ultimate climax more than pays off on the promise of the opening prophecy.
For those who enjoy light romantic fantasies then Moth and Spark is the perfect book for you. However, if you see yourself as a fantasy dragon hunter, then you hunt elsewhere.
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