The world might be the bit that lets the book down overall, I think. A fairly straight quest-narrative can be made more interesting and worth reading thanks to an intriguing world. And Britain just doesn’t manage that. I didn’t care that the many-centuries-old wall was crumbling – and I don’t know Game of Thrones real well, but is that a bit similar? – not least because the opening chapter where this disintegration began was pretty overwrought. It’s hard to care about that sort of thing before you know anything about the world it’s affecting. And throughout the story, the world just wasn’t differentiated from any other pseudo-medieval-with-a-touch-of-magic-maybe world.
The characters were all pretty stock. The lead, Karigan, is a plucky schoolgirl, unfairly maligned and therefore running away from school, who falls into an adventure that she turns out to be quite well suited to. What a surprise. A couple of things here: it was never made clear whether this was Fate, or the work of gods, OR whether it was an entirely fortuitous accident. It didn’t feel like it was kept mysteriously ambivalent, either, just… undiscussed. Also: schoolgirl? Really? I don’t think Karigan’s age is ever made clear (if it was, I wasn’t paying attention), and while yes it’s all very exciting to have teenagers going on adventures, this one just felt incongruous. Perhaps I should decide that the ‘school’ is more like a university, and actually she’s at least in her late teens. Plus, there’s a certain bit later in the book where a certain (good) male character seems to be Looking at her, and if she’s 16 – ICK.
Most of the other characters come and go. I didn’t really understand why we got so much of Karigan’s dad; he helps the plot along occasionally, but really it didn’t warrant what felt like a lot of attention. The reader who really identifies with Karigan is unlikely to identify quite so much with Dad. I did like that the leader of the Green Riders, basically the king’s fast message service, is female – there’s no suggestion that women shouldn’t be Riders, nor that they shouldn’t be students. I don’t remember any mention of female governors though. Anyway, Mapstone is cool, and I’d probably rather read a book with her as a central character. The most interesting other characters are two sisters, who turn up completely incongruously at a vital point in Karigan’s adventure and provide all sorts of useful McGuffins. Despite the fact that they only exist for this purpose, they’re utterly delightful and hilarious as sisters living together with no one else around in a very weird house.
The plot… well, it begins as a quest. I like quests. Surprisingly, the quest is over just halfway through, and then it turns into a palace intrigue. Which made sense, given the quest mission was delivery of a message, but it was still quite a change of pace – literally, since now almost everything happens within the palace or nearby, rather than Karigan barrelling along at breakneck speed throughout the realm. The quest didn’t really work for me again because of the world-building; it was lacking. I didn’t get a sense for what made the world tick, and the story felt like a number of random events thrown together that didn’t, in the end, build up to a coherent world. The palace intrigue was, again, exactly that; there was nothing to set it apart from any other story of similar ilk.
So, in the end… meh.