This is one of those books that had so much potential to be something wonderful and then stumbled in the execution. The story of Cleopatra and AntonyThis is one of those books that had so much potential to be something wonderful and then stumbled in the execution. The story of Cleopatra and Antony told with supernatural elements, wherein the Egyptian gods really do imbue the pharaoh's line and the priests/priestesses with power and abilities? Awesome!
Unfortunately, the story suffers from choppy writing. Many times, a conflict is just starting to pick up steam when there's a sudden time jump, jolting the reader out of the slow and natural build and starting with something completely different.
I loved the relationship between Cleopatra and Caesar. It takes a deft hand to establish a relationship to the point where a reader feels they understand it despite one of the two people involved having been dead for the vast majority of the story. Despite his death, Caesar remains a realistically influential character on those left behind, a presence that never quite fades but doesn't come to the point of overshadowing all else.
Caesar provides a drastic contrast to Antony, but instead of highlighting the strengths of both men, it mostly serves to make the novel's hero look weak. He spends most of the book wallowing in misery over things that have happened to him, while both Cleopatra and Caesar deliberately take action. By the end of the book, I had absolutely no idea why Cleopatra would want to spend any time with Antony, let alone consider him the great love of her life....more
Let's get one thing straight: the cover art is at least 75% responsible for me owning this book. Seriously, look at it. The gorgeous colours, the lighLet's get one thing straight: the cover art is at least 75% responsible for me owning this book. Seriously, look at it. The gorgeous colours, the lighting, the sense of movement in the silk, the capable-looking woman of colour... it's like they designed this cover specifically to catch my attention.
I'm always interested in fantasy that gets away from the standard Euro-centric setting, and Vessel does this with a rich and detailed world. The desert and the tribes that inhabit it are so real you can almost feel the sand around you, even if you're reading in the dead of winter (as I did), and Liyana's pride in her homeland is easy to understand. It's a sharp contrast from the Empire, which is vague enough there's no personality beneath the military force. No sense of culture or identity, nothing to ground them in the reality the book was otherwise so fantastic at establishing.
Even if you're not the kind of reader who's drawn in by worldbuilding, though, you can find a lot to love in this book. Liyana, Korbyn, and the other vessels are a collection of interesting characters, each very different from the others. I wished we'd gotten to know Raan a little better, since a vessel who resents being a vessel is something that stands out. Interestingly, though, it's probably Korbyn who grows and changes the most during the journey. As protagonist, Liyana picks up some new skills and tests herself in some rather drastic circumstances, but she was strong and resourceful from the beginning, so she didn't have far to go. The trickster god, however, finds himself facing the consequences of being the god nobody's sure they can trust.
I really enjoyed the legends the characters told each other, stories that often involved past adventures of the gods or other tales passed down through the tribes. The stories become a recurring theme throughout the book, something that helps to tie things all together and adds a certain degree of depth to the characters (especially the gods) and their world. The stories were short and always tied in to the situation at hand, so while they could have gotten distracting, they were well used and in fact became a strength of the novel.
By contrast, the romance included one of the most contrived triangles I've ever encountered. Liyana and Korbyn grow close enough through their adventures that Bayla becomes concerned, since Korbyn is meant to be her lover. She's aware he's not treating Liyana as the vessel she's meant to be, but is growing to appreciate her as a person on her own terms, and while Liyana keeps trying to remind herself this is the beloved of her goddess and that she herself is on borrowed time, she can't keep from growing feelings. For a good three quarters of the book, this is the romantic scenario, until a new character is introduced and instantaneously, there are meant to be feelings that rival the ones the reader has spent the entire book with. It's of course not a situation that would settle in a way to keep everyone satisfied, but more political motivations would have been easier to believe. Trying to add a fourth person into the romance aspect at the end of the book feels like enough of a deus ex machina it took away from the satisfaction I'd had reading the rest of the book. Which is a shame, because up until that point, I'd really been enjoying the story, the characters, and the fantastic world they lived in....more
A lot of times when people say "speculative fiction," what they really mean is that it's straight up space opera or epic fantasy, but they don't wantA lot of times when people say "speculative fiction," what they really mean is that it's straight up space opera or epic fantasy, but they don't want to call it that for fear of sounding nerdy or uncool. Apparently speculative fiction sounds more... literary or something, and so for me the term has earned some rather pretentious connotations. Since this is an alternate history novel with no other sci-fi or fantasy elements, based on the concept of "what if things had gone a different way?", it's one of the few books I've read I would honestly qualify as being speculative fiction.
The narration switches between Lucy and Carmichael, each with their very different perspectives. It's told in first person, with the two narrators alternating chapters, which gives the author a nice and tidy way of giving the reader plenty of information to keep the speculators busy while the mystery quietly unfolds.
And it is a quiet unfolding. Despite the murder mystery, this is a quiet sort of book, full of introspection and subtle posturing, but don't let that fool you. There's a ton of tension packed in here, with very real consequences behind everything. Walton doesn't sugarcoat or pull punches, and that's what makes this book so much more powerful than it would have been had there been car chases a-plenty.
The ending is what really sets it apart from other works, though. Farthing didn't give me the resolution that I expected or wanted, but the ending it served up felt real, and had me thinking about the book for days after I finished it. It's not sad, but it is bittersweet, and adds a degree of reality to the entire book and the alternate world created within. It's well worth the read just to explore a little bit of fascist England, to see what might have happened "if."...more