Auralia lay still as death, like a discarded doll, in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, where she was discovered by an old man who did not know her name.
She bore no scars, no broken bones, just the stain of inkblack soil. Contentedly, she cooed, whispered, and babbled, learning the river’s language, and focused her gaze on the stormy dance of evening sky—roiling purple clouds edged with blood red. The old man surmised she was waiting and listening for whoever, or whatever, had forsaken her there.
Author: Jeffrey Overstreet
Synopsis: In the wilds outside House Abascar, a pair of Gatherers—criminals cast from the House—discover and adopt the abandoned Auralia despite suspicions that she is one of the feared Northchildren. Independent and comfortable with the wild, Auralia proves to have a talent more dangerous than the Gatherers could have imagined: an ability to create and work in supernatural colors, when no one outside Abascar’s palace is allowed to wear anything but drab. Amid the House’s internal turmoil and the external threat of approaching beastmen, Auralia’s unruly gifts enchant everyone from Gatherer to prince, and threaten those with the power to destroy both her and her people.
Notes: This, impressively enough, is original fantasy.
Granted, the beastmen basically resemble Jordan’s Trollocs, and I doubt Jordan originated the concept (they’re not that unlike Tolkien’s Orcs, after all.) And I seem to recall a moment or two when Narnia came to mind, though those instances were perhaps nothing more than a slight resemblance of names. But overall, the story didn’t seem much like anything else I’ve read.
Fantasy fiction comes in a lot of voices, many of which—at first glance, at least—are rather dry to the touch. Which is perhaps my biggest problem with the genre. I’m not attracted by letter-scramble names, medieval weaponry and blazing action; I want a tangible, emotive sense of place and character. If anything, I’d say Overstreet’s poetic prose did this too well. A sentence like “The child became twigs and burnt autumn leaves, thin and fisty fingers clutching acorns and seeds as though they were stolen jewels” contains lovely imagery, but the metaphorical structure annoys me. That’s just me. O ye of great love for poetry, you’ll probably adore it.
Despite my distaste for metaphoric sentences, however, I did appreciate the colorful, sensory use of language. I felt and knew the world; I knew and loved Auralia, Cal-raven, Scharr ben Fray, and the ale-boy.
The story never took an expected turn that I can remember, which was another surprise. There was a fair bit of head-hopping, and I didn’t necessarily know who would turn out good and who, not so much. Even the one plot point I was very confident in wasn't bothered with until the epilogue.
Like most first installments in fantasy series, the ending was anything but. I spent half an hour or better Googling, reading reviews of the next few books, trying to figure out if a certain very important character returned in the sequels. Weirdly enough, the answer proved hard to find. Eventually someone answered it in the affirmative, which is good, because I had no intention of reading any further if not.
Recommendation: Read it in evenings, with hot spiced tea or cider and warm colors around you.