Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Queen's Poisoner - A Wondrous Tale

There are two kinds of magic when reading fantasy. The first is the obvious - witches and sorcerers, spells and grimoires, in whatever form they may take. The second kind of magic is one that populates the world with wonder, with lore and mystery, and perhaps, the wonder of a world seen through the eyes of a child. This second kind of magic is harder to achieve, but The Queen's Poisoner has it in spades.

The beginning of the Kingfountain series focuses on young Owen Kiskaddon, sent away from his family to live in the castle of King Severn, a ward given to the king as punishment for his family's disloyalty. But like all fantasy heroes, Owen is not alone for long, as the kitchen workers, a female ward about his age, a royal spy, and the queen's poisoner all work together, sometimes reluctantly, to keep Owen and his family safe from the king's cruel and tyrannous ways.

What I really appreciated about this series was the cohesive theme of fountains as the source of the sacred, and the idea of being "Fountain-blessed" as a sort of analogy to the old world's divine right of kings, as well as to a select few who are gifted with special abilities. It gave the mystical, spiritual elements of the plot something that tied them all together and made them feel complex, important, and intriguing.

That sense of wonder was increased tenfold by the storytelling that revolved around Owen and Elizabeth Victoria Mortimer as they explore the castle, finding forbidden wells, secret paths, and lots of terrific hiding spaces for them to listen in on the political machinations of the grown-ups. I especially like stories centering on mystical spaces, and The Queen's Poisoner has so many good ones to choose from. It's rare that my inclination for such things is satisfied in fiction - that's what makes this book really cool for me. The idea started in this book and, I assume, continued throughout the series, that Owen is one of the rare fountain-blessed piqued my interest. With a secret underwater treasure that no one but him can see, how could it not be?

The characterization is top-notch. Sure, there are some character types at work here - I mentioned the helpful kitchen workers - but at the same time, none of them felt stale. They are all fully developed, and so I as a reader developed compassion for them, finding each person compelling in their own histories and aspirations, especially as their differing motivations coalesce in Owen's favor (or against it, for his enemies). The rotund spy was one of my favorites, and I found myself laughing out loud as a sign of the rapport I'd built with him-he was perhaps one of the best characters, and I enjoyed the snippets of the espion's writing that prefaced every chapter.

It was also satisfying to see the characterization of King Severn shift over the course of even just this first volume. Amorphous ideas of people, especially those in power, are significantly shaped by reputation and rumor even moreso than fact, and I enjoyed seeing that play out here.

One drawback to this book is that I could have envisioned it being a whole lot longer. There are bits of storytelling that felt rushed. The geographic descriptions of certain places left my mind unable to conjure correctly, which was a bit frustrating, although this problem was sporadic. Some places were described perfectly well. What the book really needed was to flesh out its political backstory. I could tell that the author had it all plotted out in his own head, but since I myself am not Fountain-blessed, it was really hard for me to understand relationships and prior events that I felt were being framed as important. I like the way this sort of thing was handled in The Greatcoats series, where you get a few flashbacks about relevant events as you need them. I really could have used something like that here. There are so many players on the political field that without really seeing them in action, it's hard to keep them all straight in my head.

Be that as it may, I will come hungry and eager to the next book in the series, as the adventures of Lord Owen Kiskaddon continue.

K. Rating: 4.5/5

Image result for magic waterfall
C'mon. You know finding magic treasure is pretty freaking awesome.

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