Oopsie – I actually wrote this some time ago for LibraryThing and forgot to post it here as well, so with some delay: The fourth and final instalment in J. Gregory’s Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone. Keyes is a writer I’ve read almost everything of (with the exception of his Star Wars novels, and this only because they seem to part of some larger series which I didn’t feel like getting all of) and whose works I have always enjoyed. This series was no exception and while it maybe did not quite live up to what I consider his best work today, the Age of Unreason quartet, I was still very much looking forward to this concluding volume.
J. Gregory Keyes, The Born Queen
Well, my expectation were somewhat disappointed, and The Born Queen turned out to be a bit of a letdown.
I do not think the problem with this novel is that it is rushed, for that would seem to involve some kind of sloppiness, and I could not find any of that here – quite to the contrary, as far as I could tell (though relying just on memory there, and without re-reading the previous volumes in the series) the various strands are all tied up quite deftly, without letting dangle any lose ends or having to resort to any kind of deus ex machina.
To me, the problem seems rather that the novel has been pared down to the bare bones of the plot – there is nothing at all superfluous here, pretty much every sentence serves to advance the action in some way. Which is not a bad thing in and of it itself – it does become one, however, if it reduces the characters (that used to be one of the strength of this series) to mere functions of the plot.
The Born Queen reads for most of its length more like the abstract of a novel instead of the novel, and it’s devoid of all the details and small episodes that give characters the necessary room to breathe and bloom. Instead, they appear hemmed in and restricted by the inexorable progress of the narrative that they are chained to like captives to the victor’s chariot in a triumphal procession.
And considering everything that happens to the various characters in this volume, one really would have liked to have seen some of their reactions to those things, of the impact the unfolding have on them, and of how they are shaped and – gradually in some cases, quite abruptly in others – changed from what they started out as. Instead, all the novel offers is a bare statement of fact, and that is immensely frustrating to the reader.
While I appreciate that, counter to an increasingly common thread, an author tries to keep a series on course and doesn’t let it sprawl into all directions and over many volumes, I think The Kingdom of Bone and Thorne would have profited if The Born Queen had been fleshed out into two novels instead of being the bare skeleton of one.
Still, the plot of what remains an overall excellent series gets resolved in a satisfactory, and not without some surprise twists on the way; and at least the novel moves at a very brisk pace – whatever else one may say about it, it is most certainly never boring, so that, overall, while I would have wished more, The Born Queen is certainly a worthwhile read, and a disappointment only when considering how highly the previous novels had raised expectations.