Thursday, July 12, 2012

REVIEW: Sorrow's Child by Georgina Anne Taylor

The Taint: Sorrow's Child Sorrow's Child by Georgina Anne Taylor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

CAUTION: Long Review, Spoilers

I started the book with low expectations because (1) presently I can count on one hand books I liked, i.e. 3-stars+ rated, that were authored by my GoodReads friends, (2) Sorrow's Child (SC) was marketed as gothic fantasy and gothic fantasy is on the edge of my genre preference, (3) the blurb — this:
'Sorrow’s Child', the first novel in 'The Taint' series, is a dark fairytale steeped in myth and magic. In a richly gothic setting, 'Sorrow’s Child' is a coming of age story and a tale of betrayal and bloody revenge.

On the Isle of Muin, one of the thirteen scattered Meda Isles, Lilith, a young orphan and an indentured servant, is found guilty of witchcraft and is condemned to hang...
— was neither intriguing nor informative.

Simply put, I took a big-Big chance on the book of little over 84,000 words. For the first half of the book, it looked like my chance was not going to pay off.

Not until I pass into the last half of the book that SC began to entertain me. Soon, I realized SC was similar to Shadow and Bone (SaB), a highly-rated (and overhyped) YA fantasy, in many ways. And when I finished SC, I thought "Woah, now this is the way SaB should have ended. Hell yeah!"

The Blurb

ETA: The below has been fixed and no longer apply. Author has permission to use this as base for her new blurb.

I found the blurb a tad misleading. There was betrayal, but it was a plot element not a plot theme. There were bloody scenes, but nothing I considered as "bloody revenge" or even revenge. No, SC was not "a tale of betrayal and bloody revenge" IMO. But I wasn't irritated by that.

What irritated me was how the blurb didn't do the book justice. There were thrilling things going on but the blurb didn't advertise them.

+++ things the blurb should have advertised

Poor Lilith — orphan and indentured servant — is about to be hanged, guilty for being a witch. But destiny disagree.

Lilith is rescued and guided to Branwen Tower on Ivy Isle where a powerful sorcerer named Ge-Iad reside. There, the 14-years old girl discovered happiness in her new home, a place free from persecution and among her own kind where a mentor would teach her magic.

Yet the longer she lived there, the more she saw all was not well. Beneath the peace was demon summoning, corpse collection, and blood ritual. Ge-Iad wasn't truly teaching Lilith. He was planning to restore the reign of the Branwen Witch Kings and Lilith was the key to achieve his goal.

Her origin, once unknown to her, is now coming back to haunt her. For Lilith is potentially the strongest witch in the world, prophesied as the King Slayer. All magic-kinds now have their eyes on her. Without fail, Lilith must master her magic and foil the mad sorcerer's plan for kingdom domination. Because failure wouldn't mean death for her. Worse, it would mean eternal slavery to the mad sorcerer — and witches live for a very long time.

Kingdoms will fall. Kingdoms will rise. And you, Lilith, lie at the centre of it all. (chapter 20)

Why I consider SC as YA

I consider it as YA simply because of the protagonist's age. Not to mention that the blurb said the book was a "coming of age story" even though it really wasn't. There wasn't first love, finding one's place in the world, the awkwardness of adolescence, or any themes typical of a "coming of age story" found in SC.

But I thought this was to the book's benefit. Very rare it is for a YA whose central conflict was about the heroine realizing her destiny and not have it revolved around a boy or, more commonly, two boys in a love triangle.

The Writing

+++ the bads

The beginning was tedious because Lilith wasn't doing anything but following strangers' orders: come inside, address me as mistress, take a bath (though to be fair Lilith did need a bath), eat, wait here, etc. There was no building of suspense of wondering who was rescuing her.

Next, when Lilith arrived at Branwen Tower, it was the ingredients-gather and potion-making scenes that dragged the plot. It was too much details for me to care.

The problem was that the series of action seem more appropriate for a movie script than for a novel. The writing was in active voice but it didn't engage me as it should. The writing scrimped on making emotional connection; I wanted to know what the characters were feeling just as much I saw what the characters were doing. Most importantly, I wanted to know what was the point of the imagery and action; it was too much showing and not enough telling.

+++ the goods

Fortunately, the writing improved in the last half of the book. There was an abundance of dialogue, emotional connection, world-building, action — all of which contributed to a faster pace and an entertaining read.

The story was told in 3rd PoV from Lilith's side, but there were a few long flashbacks told from Esha's side. I generally dislike flashbacks, but these were done in a way that there was no rush to get back to the present which I liked. SC allowed me to read the flashbacks leisurely; I never felt the urge to skim them so I could get the story back to present time.

Although the big twist — the connection between Esha of the past and Lilith of the present — was predictable it didn't lessen the excitement of the climax for me. The excitement was found in Lilith when she stopped being passive and started taking charge of her situation.

The Characters

+++ Lilith, the heroine

I did not like Lilith in the beginning. Meek and naive, Lilith was not a heroine I could cheer for or care enough to pity. Instead of questioning strangers, she easily gave them her trust and did whatever they ordered. This came after the fact that she was betrayed by fellow servants who absolutely did not do anything to defend her and with no hesitance believed she was a witch. Granted Lilith was a witch, but she wasn't even given the benefit of the doubt and these people were supposed to be her loved ones. I dumbfounded to see Lilith could still be so trusting and it made me doubt if she had any self-preservation instinct. It was irksome watching Lilith played a passive role.

I had the same problem in SaB and its protagonist, Alina. It was not as if these two girls were dumb, they were actually intellectual. They were also strong because both girls had great magic no one else have. I was not expecting them to be ever-so-clever, but I groaned when they took what people say and do at face-value. I wanted to yell at them "Hey! You do know people can lie and be evil in the disguise of good, right?!"

Fortunately — very fortunately — Lilith grew as a kick-ass character in leaps and bounds whereas Alina grew — well I'd argue Alina didn't grew at all as a character. All it took was an attempted rape scene to shake Lilith out of her naiveté. Yes, it was crass way to deliver character development but I started to like Lilith when I saw how she recognized victim-blaming.
Lilith knew she should feel grateful to Ge-Iad for saving her, but the brutal way in which he had killed Giles [the rapist], and then blamed her for provoking the attack, had shocked her.
Rightfully so! From there, Lilith began to see things as they truly were instead of what they seem to be.

Unlike Alina, Lilith realized on her own the true face of Ge-Iad. Unlike Alina, Lilith didn't depend on a boy to rescue her. Unlike Alina, she concocted a plan to defeat Ge-Iad.

Unlike Alina, Lilith ultimately kicked ass. Go girl, swing that mighty axe!

Though I was irked by her trusting nature, it dawned on me that Lilith wasn't exactly stupid as she was really resilient. To my joy, Lilith never moped.

+++ Ge-Iad, the villain

He was similar to the Darkling in SaB in many ways — powerful, handsome, charming, domineering, nefarious, merciless, and mad. Both men wanted to enslave the heroines, to use the girls' peerless magic for kingdom domination.

Ge-Iad was the kind of villain where readers know he's bad for the heroine but we don't know exactly how bad till near the end when it is too late and only luck can save the heroine. It was the kind of evil that doesn't make itself known like a thunderstorm but creeps in slowly without great awareness like smog.

Other Issues, All Minor

+++ the servant

I didn't understand why Ge-Iad commanded Lilith to not to speak with his servant, Hesta, or otherwise "engage her attentions." Even though he lectured Lilith witch-kind are superior and that she should act according to her station, he treated her like a servant. Near the end, he wanted her to be his slave. At first, I thought Ge-Iad was just trying to assert his authority over Lilith, but then I realize what better way for him to do so then by making Lilith work alongside with Hesta as a co-servant.

I really wanted to know Ge-Iad's reason keep the two ladies apart. And why Hesta mysteriously died after Ge-Iad punished Lilith for accepting a poppet from Hesta. Though the book never said it outright, it felt obvious to me to assume Ge-Iad killed Hesta.

Once Hesta was gone, she was gone. We never find out exactly why she was gone. Hesta was an interesting character. I truly wanted to know more about her.

+++ the raven

The raven was Ge-Iad's talking familiar who guided Lilith to its master's place in the beginning of the story. It played a big role in the first few chapters so it was disconcerting when it was never heard from again till the last few chapters. I believed it was an oversight on the story's part.

+++ the sleeping potion and the axe
By your blood, spit and by the waters of your loins, you are bound to my cause. I hold your obedience. You cannot go against my plans nor can you harm me. In fact, you can’t do very much at all without my consent.
So how did the sleeping potion and axe worked if Lilith was spell-binded to do no harm against Ge-Iad? The logical reason seem to be that Ge-Iad exaggerated his claim and that the spell only worked on her magic and kept her close to him. Nonetheless, I would have like the book to explain the loopholes and not to force readers jump for conjectures however plausible they may be.

In Conclusion

The book's chapters were split into three parts. Part One I give 2-stars, Part Two 2.5-stars, Part Three 4-stars which averaged the book (rounded up) to a 3-stars.

I rate SC 3-stars for I-liked-it. All the major issues I had with SC in the beginning were fixed by the end. The writing improved, the pace quicken, the heroine grew. The ending was so good I was sad to see it wasn't longer and sad to learn the sequel of SC follow a different protagonist (two actually). Not anymore. Yay!

As I said, SC and SaB were similar in many ways, but they were different in their approach to the witches. The witches are in power in SaB but SC is what happened if the witches lost their rule over the kingdom and the regular people went on a witch-hunt. If readers can get over the tedious beginning of SC, they may find SC is better than SaB. For sure, SC's ending beats SaB's.

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