on Sep. 5, 2011 :
(Cross-posted from the Frida Fantastic book blog)
A lot of fantasy involves a hero on a fetch quest to save the kingdom from invading hordes. But what if the hero failed? This is exactly the beginning of this book.
The central premise is amazing and makes this book stand out from its contemporaries. Epic fantasy as a subgenre seems to like its epic wars and the threat of invasion, but it doesn’t concern itself much with a logical consequence of war—colonialism. Medair fetches the Horn of Farak, but she dooms her kingdom when she falls asleep in an enchanted labyrinth. She wakes up five hundred years later to find that her homeland is no longer hers. The Ibisian invaders now rule the lands, and Medair’s disappearance and the collapse of her kingdom has become the stuff of legend. Her kingdom’s people mostly have been wiped out, or they’re of mixed blood and identify themselves as Ibisians.
Medair is on the wrong side of history, and has to come to terms with her homeland as a colonized space. What more is that she still has the powerful artefact that is capable of nothing less than genocide. While she hides her true identity, different factions pull her into escalating wars. She has to decide whether to side with her invaders, and what justice really means in this new context. So yes, plenty of engaging ideas there.
The narrative is introspective and filled with flashbacks, but it works so well because Medair is such a complex heroine. She is deeply loyal to her dead kingdom, feels disgust towards the Ibisians, but is also a very compassionate human being. The rest of the cast is interesting even if mysterious, and the rich dialogue is filled with carefully chosen words and courtly intrigue. Every moment changes her relationship with the Ibisians, creating an intense build up to her final decision which could alter the fate of her homeland.
Höst’s intricate prose and world-building is a joy to sink into. I wanted to race through the pages because I couldn’t wait to see how the story unfolds, but I forced myself savour each word. I stopped to re-read scenes several times because they were so emotionally powerful and I wanted to hold on to the moment. But it’s quite possible that I sympathized with Medair so much that I also felt her sense of dread.
I love how this story brings a historical understanding of culture and politics to an epic fantasy setting. It’s very refreshing compared to some of the epic fantasy I’ve read over the years where different factions are racially essentialized into a couple of simplistic traits, are forever foes, and are unchanging for millennia. But I thought this novel approaches race as more of a social construct–a fluid category. Medair notes the subtle differences in pigmentation and body type, which may be may be significant for neighbouring peoples turned colonizer and colonized, but perhaps not that significant to someone outside of those countries. Different ethnicities are described with certain attributes, but the attributes are ultimately cultural. As Medair notices, culture mixes and changes over time, and that changes how she relates to the Ibisians.
It’s also interesting how Medair becomes a political symbol. An extremist group calls themselves Medarists, and their goal is to overthrow Ibisian power and put any person with Ibisian blood into slavery. They’re also waiting for Medair’s fabled return and consequent call to arms. I liked the disconnect between the politics-using-the-person-as-a-symbol, and the actual politics of the person herself. The only other story I recall seeing this point of view is from Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story “The Day Before the Revolution”, but Medair isn’t an aging revolutionary–she wants nothing to do with the movement named after her. I liked the inclusion of this group, and I thought they added more depth to the politics of this world.
It took a few chapters for it to really grab me, and I wanted more from the plot because I felt like it was just the beginning of something bigger. Some of the formal titles of the nobility are hard to remember because they’re similar and all start with the letter K, but these are very minor complaints. This book may be too introspective and brooding for some, but the earnest emotional core, original ideas, and beautiful prose definitely makes it re-read material for me.
The Silence of Medair is an intelligent, absorbing, and poignant fantasy novel. Readers should take note of this work, especially if you’re interested in an epic fantasy or a memorable heroine. It’s an excellent read and it’s highly recommended.
Note: A free review copy was provided by the author.
(reviewed 41 days after purchase)
on Sep. 3, 2011 :
Review – “The Silence of Medair” by Andrea K. Höst
Medair an Rynstar has to be counted among the least fortunate heroes in all fantasy fiction. After a small error of judgment on the eve of an epic triumph over an overwhelming enemy, she is robbed of the chance to save her beloved Empire. Thrust into a homeland transformed by the hated invaders, she wants nothing more than to hide away in exile and nurse her grief. But after she escapes an unexplained kidnapping attempt, she finds herself in the service of her most reviled enemy. Now she is forced to choose between her oath of loyalty to a dead emperor and the realities of her new world.
Medair is an unusual fantasy heroine. She is a strong woman of conviction without a place in the world, a diplomat left with nobody to speak for and an unremarkable mage in possession of the magical equivalent of a tactical nuke, a weapon too powerful to be of any use. Her decisions – to keep secrets and serve nobody – draw her back to the centre of world affairs, the last place she wants to be.
Andrea Höst’s evocative prose paints rich landscapes, whether she is dealing with her sumptuous world of world-breaking magic, the tenuous social fabric of a conquered empire or the inner torment of Medair herself. And it is with her compelling and complex protagonist that Höst’s work excels: Medair is a complex and compelling protagonist. She is guarded and resourceful, clever and insightful, secretive and tenacious. She is loyal to her values yet unable to completely surrender to justified hatred for her enemies and wearied by a cruel misfortune which carries with it more than a hint of predestination.
"The Silence of Medair" is on the one hand stirring and emotional high fantasy, with the requisite invasions by sorceror-armies, magical shenanigans, political intrigues and scenes of apocalyptic destruction. But it is also a tense emotional drama, a subtle and elegant romance, a haunting meditation on survivor guilt and a frank exploration of the political and emotional underpinnings of racism. It’s a lot to live up to, but Höst handles it with aplomb. I can’t recommend it enough.
What’s more, it ends on a cracking cliffhanger. I’m glad the sequel’s out already.
(reviewed 6 months after purchase)