The Briar King by Greg Keyes
Review by Joshua S Hill
For me, the arrival of Christmas and the Hill family Kris Kringle often means that I’ll walk away with a lovely Borders gift voucher (thanks Amy!!! ). This year was no different, and I had a lot of fun one night doing some searching for new books I would like to start in on and one day at Borders spent finding those books I’d written on my list.
Subsequently I came into possession of the Briar King, by Greg Keyes. The blurb looked interesting, and the cover art was nice as well (I’m a sucker for a good cover). But should I have judged the book by its cover?
Well, yeah, turns out I was right on the money. Again!
Greg Keyes is a great author, and in this the first book of his quadrology the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone, he really brings you into the story, makes you fall in love with characters and thrills you with a story that has you on the edge of your seat for a lot of the time.
We are presented with a world that is similar to a lot of fantasy books, but not quite the same. This in and of itself is refreshing. You normally see authors go one of two ways; stereotypical fantasy or brand-spankin’ new ideas which leave you confused and spend half the book trying to get a grasp of what exactly a Holitolawith is. Or whatever.
Keyes introduces us to a world which, right from the go, is prophesied to die. This is an interesting thing to have done, because it theoretically gives the story away. But by the end of the first book you’re not quite sure what exactly the original prophecy meant, and whether you interpreted correctly.
People are dead who you thought would be alive. People are alive who you thought would be dead. Throughout the book you are surprised with the realistic approach Keyes has taken to the sanctity of life and how likely it is to survive a knife in the chest. Characters are frayed around the edges, their emotions set to high, and their flaws very obvious. And characters don’t all of a sudden turn into superheroes or survive obvious death.
I was utterly pleased when the original opinions of the characters were turned upside down. One character is apparently a bitch, but then given a little bit of time we realize that’s just the childish opinions of our lead. Another character doesn’t seem so bad, but then …
The only issue I have with this book is what, at the conclusion of reading this book and without having read on just yet, appears to be a forced contrivance to keep one character in the dark and, it appears, perpetually kept away from those who could enlighten her. These contrivances frustrate me, as they appear for apparently no reason and leave you peeved at this one character left out of the loop while everyone else has an inkling of what is going on.
That being said, it is not enough to ruin the book, and I could very likely be proved wrong when I start in on the sequel, The Charnel Prince (it arrived from eBay yesterday). So if you’re looking for a fantasy book with enough of a spin that leaves it being a fresh taste in your mind, then check out the Briar King as soon as you can. You will not regret it!
Gregory Keyes is famous for his quartet of books named The Age of Unreason, a steampunk/alchemical story starring Benjamin Franklin and Isaac Newton. He also wrote the Babylon 5 Psi Corps trilogy, a history of the Psi Corps and a biography of Psi Corps member Alfred Bester.
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