Plot: At its start, the second volume of Kaptanoglu's Conjurer Fellstone trilogy might throw off readers who haven't recently finished the series' first book, as the story opens in media res, and Kaptanoglu's re-introductions of her characters and storylines come on the fly. But once readers catch up -- around the time friends Ash and Calder bust up the surprise wedding of Lady Tessa -- the storytelling is clear and exciting. Kaptanoglu is adept at structuring a multi-perspective narrative with compelling end-of-chapter hooks that keep readers reading. She plots shrewdly, nesting quests within quests and mysteries within mysteries, keeping the story exciting while still finding time to lay bare the hearts of her heroes. She's especially good at setting up puzzles whose solutions, once sprung on the readers, prove delightful.
Prose/Style: Kaptanoglu's prose is crisp and purposeful, charged with feeling, and always attuned to what will engage readers in each moment. Occasionally, though, her descriptions could be more clear or detailed. For example, when Ash and Calder enter a crypt to steal a powerful magic item, the novel focuses on the dialogue between the heroes at the expense of atmosphere or tension.
Originality: As a fantasy of quests and intrigue and battles of dynastic succession, Gravenwood is situated within quite familiar territory. Kaptanoglu, though, imbues the familiar with fresh urgency. Her inventions are unique and resonant, such as the mother whose use of a magic amulet has left her tragically believing that she is a bird. While fantastical, that situation gets treated here with an aching emotional realism. Kaptanoglu takes great care, when creating her inventive wonders, to connect them to both real human feeling and to the weird essence and logic of folklore.
Character Development: While a twisty adventure narrative and a succession of daring escapes keeps the story moving along, Gravenwood’s hallmark is the strong, intimate bonds between its unlikely trio of heroes. The plot turns on Lady Tessa losing her throne, but the book's heart is in the heroes' efforts to restore the mind of her enchanted mother. Tessa's anguish at her (apparent) failure to save a dying man is moving, as is her and gravedigger Ash's dedication to each other, a love that both understand doesn't quite fit into their lives.
Date Submitted: April 01, 2020
"An 11th-hour twist emphasizes the elegance of Kaptanoglu’s plotting, and the final line will make readers eager for the next volume. Grounded, likable characters with complex emotions anchor this excellent series installment."