Congratulations! You are again being treated to one of those “Betsy just doesn’t feel like editing before publishing” posts, which I know you absolutely adore because they make you feel better about your rationality.
Anyhow, I’m writing this en route back to Wild & Wonderful West Virginia. Thanksgiving break was delightful–with the obvious exception of the persistently terrifying cave crickets, which fortunately didn’t consume too much of my soul this trip–and now it’s back for the final two-and-a-half-week rush. This first week I’m affectionately referring to as “Death Week,” and the second I’ll term “Lesser Death Week.” This week includes the Christmas concert at the far end–for which I am a chorale member, Jubilate member, orchestra member, piano accompanist, prelude-player, and student conductor, because I make poor life choices sometimes–and the music theory final project at the near end–for which I keep staring at a partially-written piece of music blankly, muttering things like “rounded binary” and “leading tone resolution” and “passing 6-4 progression” and “dominant of the dominant” fruitlessly, hoping that such highbrow musical terms will inspire me. (So far, they haven’t much.)
“Now Betsy,” I hear you sweetly interjecting. “If this week is actually as deadly as you make out and you’re not just exaggerating again, why in the name of Sweet Bojangle’s aren’t you working on these things?”
While I appreciate your kindness (and your masterful use of idioms), this has a rather simple answer: a while back I volunteered to be an influencer reader for Anne Elisabeth Stengl’s lastest work, Golden Daughter, which I as to have done by November 30th. Which is, coincidentally, today! Why didn’t I review it over break? Because I was too busy taking naps. Worth it.
Anyhow, without further delay, on to the review.
[That picture looks like I’m posting it with a terrible resolution, but I’m hoping it’s my screen.]
BEYOND THE REALM OF DREAMS IS A WORLD SHE NEVER IMAGINED
Masayi Sairu was raised to be dainty, delicate, demure . . . and deadly. She is one of the emperor’s Golden Daughters, as much a legend as she is a commodity. One day, Sairu will be contracted in marriage to a patron, whom she will secretly guard for the rest of her life.
But when she learns that a sacred Dream Walker of the temple seeks the protection of a Golden Daughter, Sairu forgoes marriage in favor of this role. Her skills are stretched to the limit, for assassins hunt in the shadows, and phantoms haunt in dreams. With only a mysterious Faerie cat and a handsome slave—possessed of his own strange abilities—to help her, can Sairu shield her new mistress from evils she can neither see nor touch?
For the Dragon is building an army of fire. And soon the heavens will burn.
As, I’ve mentioned before, I’m a pretty big fan of Ms. Stengl’s “Tales of Goldstone Wood” series. (Should that title be underlined? Italicized? Quotation-marked? Left alone?) Anyhow, that series–I like it. Golden Daughter was an absolutely fabulous addition, staying true to the series while still introducing something completely new.
One of the “new” things Golden Daughter introduces is the setting; while Heartless began in a fairly traditionally-flavored European-esque fairytale scene, Ms. Stengl hasn’t limited herself to that in following books. This particular book explores the Empire of Noorhitam, previously mentioned mostly in passing. (Well, I can’t say that for certain: the novella Goddess Tithe, so I hear, goes along with this work, but as I have yet to acquire Goddess Tithe, my knowledge is rather limited.) Noorhitam has a distinctly Asain flavor. Do you know how much fun it is to read fairytales that aren’t European-based? It’s not only fun, but it helps to keep the series fresh and unique.
While it’s different in its cultural setting, however, Golden Daughter ties in quite beautifully with the rest of the series. It’s rather incredible to me, actually, how Ms. Stengl can take a theme from one book and make it into a whole ‘nother story… Honestly, most of the connections fly completely over my head. One of the main characters, Sunan, appears as a rather insignificant (I thought) ship captain all the way back in book two, Veiled Rose…but I wouldn’t have remembered that if someone else hadn’t pointed it out. And all the references to the “goldstone” and the night of moonblood and the temple of Ay-Ibunda and Una’s ring…details which I wouldn’t have connected somehow come together. Actually, reading Golden Daughter made me want more to re-read all the other Goldstone Woods books, because I am completely sure I would catch a lot more subtleties now. Someday when music theory isn’t calling. Until then, if someone else cares to make some sort of index or glossary or timeline or something, that would be fantastic.
There’s a lot more I could say–about the characters (I loved Sairu, and Eanrin’s back, being chased by a fluffy lion dog names Rice Cake, no less!), about the plot (Mysterious? Check. Complicated? Check. Engaging? Check.), about the development of Ms. Stengl’s writing (I found Golden Daughter to be adult-ier than the beginning novels, if that makes sense…not that the others were juvenile…you know what I mean…I hope), about the length (deliciously long!!)–but this is already getting pretty lengthy. A few random thoughts, and then the summary:
- I wouldn’t recommend starting the series with this book. While you technically could–each book is written in a fairly stand-alone style–I still think Heartless is the best starting point.
- As I mentioned, I found this book “adultier,” even a little bit darker at a point or two. Ms. Stengl has always been good at writing realistically, dealing with both the good and the bad, both the beautiful and the blighted, but it’s getting deeper. Not uncomfortably so, but so nonetheless. Evil exists, and she doesn’t shy away from portraying that.
- I wasn’t as crazy about the allegory in this book as I was in some of the others. Heartless was a fairly straightforward Gospel allegory, and the subsequent books have delved into other themes. Golden Daughter has a Joseph theme, which , to my great chagrin, I didn’t pick up on until it was pointed out to me. I did, however, notice a fairly strong Revelation likeness, which I just wasn’t quite as comfortable with…probably because Revelation is already pretty debated about, and allegorizing an already-debated book just sits wrong on my dispensational upbringing, you know? However, I don’t think expounding on eschatology was Ms. Stengl’s purpose here.
In summary, I really liked Golden Daughter (though Starflower still has the most feels for me). One of my favorite things about the series is Ms. Stengl’s ability to create realistic characters is non-realistic settings. While I don’t expect to ever go dream walking, witness an attack on the Lady Moon, or discover a temple made of voices, I can see myself in the characters that did. They had weaknesses and temptations and failures like me, and sometimes they had strengths and victories like me, and that is what I love about these stories. Without departing from her previous books, Ms. Stengl has created an epic that’s fresh and surprising and ancient and familiar and believably unbelievable and heartbreaking and joyously glad. Read it. You’ll be glad you did.
Now. Music theory time!!
xoxoxoxoxoxo (just in case I don’t make it),
disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.