Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: The Veiled Isles Trilogy by Paula Brandon

Paula Brandon is a pseudonym of Paula Volsky, one of my favorite fantasy authors. She entered my life in the form of a birthday present from Kris nearly two decades ago. Once i read it (a few years later), i started to soak up every book she wrote. Some of them were really hard to get by, but luckily at that time some obscure web site for books (this one) started to pop up and with it a good source for works out of print. But 2000, every available book was read and i began to wait for new release. I waited. I waited some more. I inquired publishers and even (then already out of style) UseNet groups. Finally, i  2008 i learned from a friend of her, that new books (Hurrah: a trilogy) was coming up. There were three more years to wait, but then the trilogy was published. Thankfully there were only small gaps in the release dates. But the books were well worth waiting for.

One great strength of Paula Volsky is character depiction. She manages to give them more than depth but life. They show strength and weakness, ingenuity and stupidity, empathy and utter disregard for others all within a few pages. It is what one really pulls into her books. 

She is capable of summoning pity for the arch-villain and disgust with the hero. In her books, good and bad are not as clear cut as it is tradition in fantasy. And the lines are even more blurred in this trilogy than in her earlier books.

While the first book is creating the setup for the series, it is a well rounded story by itself: An occupied country is struggling with oppression, collaborators and a weird magic leaking into the world. Only a few can read the signs while others are busy with settling scores on account of personal grudges or national rivalries.

It takes some time to dive into the book. The start is quite slow due to the rather high number of major characters. Perhaps the only weakness of the books is the time it takes for them to pick up some pace. I am afraid that readers not knowing Paula may drop out early. But those who stay will be truly rewarded.

If the trilogy was a film, one would surely call it a road movie. Most characters are most of the time either travelling or fleeing. The differentiation between those two is somewhat smaller than it seems at first. 

The ever growing darkness within the novels is only slightly mitigated by occasional romance. While the covers seem to imply differently, these books are no romantic fantasy. Piling on top of the already-not-too-cheery scenario are cruelty and viciousness by the characters themselves. Even under extreme external pressure, some barely manage to hold a truce. Only a few of them do not engage in the quarrels and those a prone to suffer from it instead. 

But even when everything is desperate and gloomy (at least for the world and everyone in it), Paula Volsky manages to insert her humor into the characters. They show an remarkable resilience and you start to like them (sometimes against your will) for it.

Only a few science fiction and fantasy authors (e.g. Patrick Rothfuss) can rival the authors language skills. Beyond story and characters, the text alone has a hypnotic quality that i (at times) find hard to escape. 

But even though, these are not books to be fast-read. I required some breaks while i progressed through them. Taking time and reading in a relaxed state is highly recommended.  Otherwise you are prone to miss something critical. Several times i went back re-read parts i passed through too quickly. 

While one can only can admire the complexity and entanglement of story and characters, it sometimes puts up a challenge for the reader. If you haven't read other books from her, you may want to start with her earlier novels first before starting with these ones. You may have to resort to buying used books. Several of these gems are out of print and not available as ebook.

Those who already like her, should get this series. If you manage to climb the first incline, one will be rewarded by a fantastic story in the best sense of the word.

These books are (of course) available at Amazon.

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