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The Poisoned Crown, by Amanda Hemingway Book Review | SFReader.com
The Poisoned Crown, by Amanda Hemingway Genre: Fantasy Publisher: Random House Published: 2007 Review Posted: 5/15/2008 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
The Poisoned Crown, by Amanda Hemingway
Book Review by C. Dennis Moore
Have you read this book?
At long last, Nathan Ward's task is nearing its completion. He has the Grail and the Sword and as soon as he locates and retrieves the Crown from the otherworld in which the Grandir secreted it, Nathan can bring them together where the Grandir can perform the Great Spell, wiping out the Contamination and save his dying world Eos. It's been a long, difficult two years for 15-year-old Nathan and his family and friends. His mother Annie worries constantly, even though she doesn't let on, that one night Nathan might dream himself into one of those otherworlds and not be able to make it back, or that while on his grand adventures, dangers might befall him that he can't escape. Nathan's best friend Hazel is struggling as well, trying to make it through school while learning all she can about her own magical powers. Hazel would just as soon forget schoolwork altogether and concentrate full-time on witchcraft, maybe then she can be the focus of a task as important as Nathan's. And then there's Uncle Barty. Bartlemy may be 1500 years old, he may have seen a lot of things and summoned a lot of spirits, but eventually he begins to suspect there might just be more to Nathan's task than any of them know, and it's the part they haven't figured out yet that scares him most, especially considering what's happened to those who've been in Nathan's position before.
Yes, I have finally finished Amanda Hemingway's "Sangreal Trilogy." And I loved it.
Since I don't read a lot of fantasy, I don't have much to compare this to, so I'll just have to look at it on its own merits. I liked the characters. I thought Hemingway drew them about as realistic as I've ever seen. The plot was very complicated and my hat goes off to her for weaving so many stories together. In each volume of this series, it's not just Nathan's quest for that book's magical item; when he dreams himself into the otherworlds, he has a way of putting himself into those world, not just as an observer or boy with a job, but as a participant. As we watch the evolution of the characters we already know, Hemingway lets us meet these otherworld inhabitants and, eventually, come to care for them and their situation just as much as we do Nathan and his gang. I love the way Hemingway never once glanced over any aspect of the otherworld stories as unimportant to Nathan's quest, but instead treated it all as, not main story and subplot, but as one whole story.
In "The Greenstone Grail" it was the story of Eos as the Grandir and his wife/sister Halme. "In The Sword of Straw," we met the dying king and his moping daughter. And in this volume it's Widewater, a world where the tides have risen and covered everything and a war is brewing between the merfolk and the lung breathers--birds and selkies; there are no humans left on Widewater. In this world, Nathan meets Ezroc the albatross and Denaero the mermaid, favorite daughter of the mermaid king and the only one under the sea who doesn't want a war. I'd say a good half the book is spent on Widewater and it was a shame to see it go when that part of the story was over. But this was the final book in the trilogy, and Nathan had a much bigger task to complete.
Hemingway, as I've praised in the earlier two reviews, is an amazing writer. There doesn't seem to be a facet of Nathan's life we don't become a part of, but it never feels plodding or out of place. Whether the way she works it into the plot, or just her use of words to make it interesting, it never feels like she's just buying time until the next big thing can happen. None of the quiet moments feel like obligatory quiet moments, you know? But nor do they seem like Hemingway trying to force this calm into the story just to give readers and characters a moment to breathe. You can tell, often, when authors are just pausing, but none of Hemingway's rests feet like that, because she has made us such a part of Nathan and Hazel and Annie and Barty's lives that even when it's Hazel talking about her mother's new boyfriend or Nathan getting a letter from his school, we feel like they're close enough friends of our own that we want to know this stuff just as much as we want to know what spell Hazel is working on or how close Nathan may be to finding the Crown on Widewater. I'll say it again, Hemingway really is an incredible writer.
Now, I say all of that as a preface to saying this. As much as I enjoyed the story, the writing, and the characters, I am so happy to be done. No matter how interesting or fully-developed or witty or rhythmic, The Poisoned Crown was tough to get through.
I don't know what it was, maybe the font or maybe it's because Hemingway IS such a complete storyteller, but it seemed for every page I read, I gained three pages of information. This is a very dense book and I often found myself glancing at the page number and finding out I was only a page or two further along than the last time I glanced, even though I've surely read a chapter's worth of material by now. Seriously, I don't know what it was, but this was heavy material, packed to the gills, and sometimes simply exhausting. There were many days I couldn't get through more than a chapter before having to put the book down and rest from the effort. You'd think that would be a good thing because it means Hemingway's prose carries the weight of the story and makes it all the more real for the reader, but at the same time I sometimes just wanted to put it away and watch television or surf the internet, something mindless that didn't require any effort on my part.
Whatever the reason for its weight, The Poisoned Crown is done. I find it strange that I can look on this book sitting next to me and think "You were a monster to finish," and at the same time I know I'll miss the characters and the world and the prose.
However, please don't let my struggles hold you back. The Poisoned Crown, as well as the entire "Sangreal Trilogy," is amazing fun and a great lesson in style for any writer. I've learned more from these three novels than I could possibly explain. I know they're lessons I'll carry for a long time and will, hopefully, have the skill to apply to my own work. And for non-writers who just want a good book, this is most definitely the place to be. Funny, self-aware, and full of excitement, the "Sangreal Trilogy" brings to life an amazing world you won't soon want to leave.
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