Aug 18, 12
Read from August 10 to 17, 2012
This is a rather wonderful book. The heroine, Aude, rebelling against the arranged marriage prepared for her by her uncle, goes on a journey to seek her origins and a magical world (WorldBelow) that no-one in her own world quite believes in any more. Aude is a convincing and likeable character, fierce and honest; her companion, the guard Jehan, is subtly drawn, a decent and courageous man obliged to defend the elite of a decadent and unjust state and forced to choose between obedience and his conscience.
Though this is the main thread, a beguiling sub-plot concerns the longing of twins Yelena and Julana, ferrets who can assume human shape, to return to their own world. They are convincingly ferrety and not at all anthropomorphic in character. It is her feeling for the natural and magical worlds that Sperring has created which give her work its distinct flavour; they are observed and evoked in vivid detail and in an original way, particularly when the point of view is not that of a human character.
At the end, I wished it had continued a little further. Perhaps there will be a sequel; I hope so! Sperring has created an unusual world that surprises at every turn, giving the pleasures of high fantasy whilst avoiding the worn-out tropes. Some of my favourite elements, apart from the ferret women, who turn out to be very much not what they seem, are the erudition, the love of learning and libraries, and the idea of technology as a force which can either enhance the natural and magical world, or destroy it.