Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Queen's Bastard by C.E. Murphy

The Queen's Bastard by C.E. Murphy is a new direction for Murphy's writing and an unexpected one. Her compelling characters sucked me in from the very start of her career so that I automatically buy whatever she puts out without even bothering to read the back of the book.

This one, though, startled me in all the right ways.

Where Murphy has previously chosen a character new to the world she finds herself in across the board, Belinda cannot be said to have that characteristic. There are things she definitely doesn't know, but she is anything but innocent. This novel is the first that I don't think my teenagers are old enough to read, but it's not just the mature content that shows a difference in style but rather the complexity of the story, the way all sides are represented and it's not clear exactly who is "right" and who is "wrong" in their beliefs within their world.

Our sympathies are clearly meant to lie with Belinda, but the bigger picture is open to speculation and questioning. I only lost the connection to Belinda once, and that moment did serve a plot aspect, maybe not as much as I needed to reconcile myself to a moment where the main character became unlikeable, but enough for me to understand why what happened happened and to look for answers even as Belinda herself did so.

Without spoilers, I have to say there is one reveal that comes out of left field. In an already complicated, multilevel political situation, Belinda's father offers an answer that makes things much more complicated and opens a whole new aspect that I expect to find fully explored in later novels in the series. It shifts the book in odd ways, but at the same time is neither jarring nor implausible, so I withhold judgment on its impact until I see more than just a teaser.

And speaking of the series, this is not a standalone book. It is a standalone introduction in that the main situation is resolved at the end, but there were threads I had hoped to see concluded just because I'm impatient for the answers, primarily with regards to Javier (you can agree or disagree once you've read the book, but this won't spoil anything :)), but the book did indicate he wasn't going to be neglected in the future, so I'll just have to remember patience is a virtue.

This is a coming of age novel, not for the novel (though it has some of those aspects) but for the writer. Murphy's talents were obvious in the very first novel of hers I read, Urban Shaman, but Queen's Bastard adds depths and complexity her earlier works had not yet attained. The rich pageantry of this novel makes it a step above and beyond, which just makes me more eager to see how she continues to mature as a writer. She's clearly not planning to sit on her already strong laurels but plans to stretch and grow in significant directions.

On a writing side, this novel has many interesting aspects. Murphy plays with tense by having the main character in standard third person past and all the other points of view in present tense. It's a nice way to signal the change, to keep you focused on who is the main character, and I found it easy to get used to.

As a curious coincidence of timing, one of the strengths of this novel is its non-verbal communication. Murphy does a wonderful job conveying information by how people react and changes in their body movement as well as what they think. The coincidence, for those who are unaware, is that I'm currently teaching a class on non-verbal communication in writing.

The only issue I had with the book, besides that I wish the sequel was here already, is what I believe to be a continuity error (mainly because no one really reacts to that fact), and I only noticed it in retrospect, so it didn't interfere with my read. Overall, I'm thrilled with this new direction Murphy has taken and can't wait to see what she does next in the series.

2 comments:

elizabeth said...

I can't finish this one now--the main character is too Nietzschean for me. (you know, end justifies the means) She's more like a spider than a person. Your review suggests that the ending gets better, so maybe I'll try after I read another book that's waiting for me. The book is well-written tho--and Belinda very well delineated. But very very ugly.

Margaret said...

It's definitely a change for Murphy, and not one that everyone is going to follow. It's a good enough book though, that I'd suggest you do give it another try depending on where you paused. On the other hand, I can't promise it'll get that much less tangled and Nietzschean.