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Review: The Golden Arrow by Anna Redmond

By / April 4, 2014 / no comments

If I had had to rate this book after only having read two thirds of it, I wouldn’t have been kind. But now that I have seen how the various elements are starting to come together, I’ve had a change of heart. It’s more complex and less predictable than I originally thought. And I do like it when authors surprise me like that.

The Golden Arrow is told through the points of view of Joseph and Nicola de Brull, a brother and sister from a family of noble lineage. Though their country (Patria) has been democratized, their father retains much of his wealth. Joseph has dedicated himself to succeeding in the new order. Nicola, who is younger than Joseph, is concerned with the sorts of things that young ladies of noble standing might be expected to care about — balls and “pamphlets” (a form of gossip magazine).

An ancient ritual in Patria, stemming from times of war when many noble sons fell in battle, is the binding of “frata.” Essentially, to continue to forge alliances, the daughters of noble houses were bound to each other in ceremonies like marriages. These frata unions were sexual as well as political. Nicola is contracted to enter into one of these unions. She displays true affection for her partner, but also has doubts.

Struggling for power are Pr. Mercer and the Queen Mother, who is the mother of the former (i.e., departed) king and who has awakened after a mysterious illness. Caught between them is Eloise, princess of Patria. She’s been Mercer’s ward and (we think) has not been treated kindly by him. I say “we think” because we’re never in Eloise’s head. We only hear her words through Joseph and Nicola, and it’s not always easy to tell whether Eloise is telling the truth or manipulating one or both of the de Brull siblings.

A few loose ends did get tied up in this book (i.e., the de Brulls’ mother suffers from bouts of illness and we are told the cause late in the book). I am hopeful that the author is going to answer some of my other questions in later volumes: what was the nature of the Queen Mother’s illness and why did she awaken when she did? whose side is Joseph’s father on? why do we keep hearing about Cece the maid?

Some things are done very well. Joseph seemed shallow and easily fooled at first, but he underwent at least one convincing transformation; so did Nicola. Other characters are not as developed, but I think the motivations of the non-POV characters needed to remain hidden so that our protagonists have to figure things out on their own.

I also thought the tension was handled nicely. Some plans go awry and some plans are followed through to completion. When a new plan hatches, we don’t know how things will end. Different characters show up to save our heroes from peril fairly often, but none of these rescues was a “deus ex machina” moment for me. These rescuers all had plausible reasons for being where they were when they effected the rescues. Pacing was also good; while the characters do periodically take a few days of rest, the author doesn’t dwell on these.

The setting is conventional — basically pseudo-medieval European. The sons of non-noble houses are being allowed education and access to government positions; this creates some tension with those who remember or prefer the old order. Some technology is around that doesn’t usually appear in fantasy — for example, accurate pistols and printing presses. Names are mostly real names still in use today, or close variants on real names.

Magic doesn’t come into play until the end of the book and appears to involve frata as well as “seeing.” I expect this element will pick up in future volumes.

The language is a little stilted. I don’t remember any long passages of infodumping, though there were a few shorter ones (for example, describing the history of a rock climbing competition). I think the writing is OK for a debut author.

As for the intended audience, that’s one place I’m still guessing. Nicola is 17 and not a lot of time passes in this book; that might make this a YA novel, but for a few of the scenes involving frata. I hesitate to call them explicit, but they ARE sex scenes. The focus on masquerade balls and gossip and dresses/hair and fancy food makes me think of this more as a book for female readers.

In the end, I think a number of aspects of The Golden Arrow were done quite well. There were a few hiccups, but I’m definitely glad I finished the book — the last part was the best and put the rest into perspective.

 

Thanks to Tor.com for the review copy. Review written by Sneaky Burrito.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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