This book has a sophistication rare either for "teen fiction", or fantasy fiction, in which genres it consciously lies. That sophistication means that it is likely to be enjoyed also by an adult audience, as well as its target young adult audience. It is written very much at the same level as Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, ie, not suitable for such young readers as Harry Potter. And I believe that it stands up well to a comparision with the Pullman, which I recently read.
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.
This medieval fantasy is a story within a story, powerful and intriguing.
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.
In 'The Cup Of The World', John Dickinson has provided the reader with a fully comprehensive world, filled with characters who are both accurately human, and yet at the same time often in receipt of remarkable powers. The story is not hampered by 'fantastical' elements, however - Dickinson has managed to avoid the many potholes of traditional fantasy, and has created a thoroughly absorbing story in which the fantastic adds spice and flavour, but never overwhelms. The opening exposes us to a brilliantly realised world, and the narrative unfolds through the eyes of Phaedra, a young girl-turned-woman who finds herself in the centre of a conflict threatening to destroy the Kingdom. Picking up pace through Part II (the story is split into three sections), the plot is revealed at a tantalising rate, drawing the reader deeper into the narrative. At no time does Dickinson succumb to simple info-dump by a character, but instead rewards the reader's patience with revelations when the story is good and ready: revelations that are often surprising and never disappointing. 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.