Plot: Sharply written and enchantingly inventive in many of its particulars, Tanager’s memorable epic quest fantasy finds exciting new variations on familiar beats, though the plotting itself often is familiar, episodic, and predictable. Savvy genre readers will intuit immediately that heroine Aise will quickly get dispatched from her village onto a quest, and that she will discover that she possesses powers that she doesn’t yet know about, powers that will reveal themselves in moments of danger. The quest itself is somewhat vague, involving seeking out “artifacts” and wise women, and the dangers Aise and her companions encounter, both incidental and plot-driven, turn up at regular intervals. But the worldbuilding, friendships, magic, and creatures are enthralling, the climactic revelations about the villains and Aise’s companions are surprising, and the pacing is ideally balanced between relationships, wonder, mystery, and storytelling momentum.
Prose/Style: Tanager’s prose is superb. It’s inventive, plummy, playful, and dead-serious, like all the best fantasy. Touches of poetry bring this singular world to life without fuss, quick eruptions from the first-person narrator emphasize what matters most in a scene, and the action is always crisp and clear. Scenes of Aise and her companions traveling and facing dangers are enlivened by fanciful but concrete description and the kind of inviting, character-revealing dialogue that invites readers to linger over the page, savoring their time with these personas. The prose is so strong that it almost makes up for the familiarity of the plot’s set up and storybeats.
Originality: The hydra hamsters, golem mice, milk leeches, banshee kittens, and emphasis on seeds, flowers, and butterflies distinguish this fantastic world from many others. Tanager insists upon making fantasy truly fantastic, much to the novel’s credit. Still, the storytelling is strikingly indebted to famous fantasy predecessors, such as Avatar: The Last Air Bender and The Lord of the Rings. The quest’s culmination feels more distinct than its beginning, but it is the characters, creatures, magic, and scenecraft that resonate here, rather than the dated plot.
Character Development: Tanager's engaging cast reveal themselves through dialogue and action –and all of Aise's companions (and the villain!) harbor enticing secrets. Tanager excels at chatty camaraderie (her crew loves to crack each other up with puns) and telling, character-revealing details. Aise is slower than the reader will be at grasping the significance of what is going on or the mysteries of her own power, though, which occasionally proves frustrating.
Date Submitted: August 12, 2020