I wasn't sure, going in, how well the book's premise would work for me. It sounded incredibly bizarre. Marling managed to make it work, although I had to take breaks several times. The way people treated the women and girls was almost uniformly awful, the fetuses themselves were little abominations, and the villain was vile.
The things I turned out to dislike the most about this book were Marling's writing and Hiresha's drowsiness. I haven't been able to put into words what it is about Marling's writing that doesn't work for me, but Hiresha's drowsiness had a tendency to make her waking world feel surreal. She had trouble staying focused, and her clothing didn't help – in addition to wearing six dresses, she had 21 more trailing behind her, plus a golden hump strapped to her back. She moved with the aid of a cane, Janny, her maid, and Deepmand, her bodyguard. Even then, she was always one slight misstep away from landing on her face or one moment away from sweating herself into dehydration. The hump and gowns did turn out to be useful, but I'm not sure they were worth the 200+ pages they spent hampering her movements.
This book was at its best when Hiresha was asleep or in the presence of the Lord of the Feast. Sleep allowed Hiresha to enter her dream laboratory, where she could replay her memories and analyze them in the most minute detail, noting microexpressions and other things that her sluggish waking mind missed. Sleep also gave Hiresha access to her magic, which could heal terrible wounds, regrow limbs, and enchant objects and clothing. I thought that the benefits and drawbacks of her magic were well-balanced and nicely done.
Being with the Lord of the Feast had similar effects on Hiresha. Something about him (maybe instinctual self-preservation?) flooded Hiresha's system with adrenaline, which allowed her to observe the world at the same level as when she was asleep. Hiresha's conversations with him were usually a lot of fun. Unfortunately, he didn't show up until about halfway through the book. Also, he brought with him a discomfiting possible romantic subplot. He was way too obviously Hiresha's future tragic and dangerous vampire boyfriend (well, not a vampire in the traditional sense – he could create and feed upon fear – but close).
I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to continue reading this series.
(Originally reviewed on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions)
(review of free book)