- File Size: 2959 KB
- Print Length: 291 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publisher: Joshua Grasso (July 5, 2014)
- Publication Date: July 5, 2014
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00LKQ0DXC
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #958,122 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
The Astrologer's Portrait (The Magicians of Mandragora) Kindle Edition
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Onto the actual book-related stuff. So.
The book starts off about Prince Harold, who is not your typical prince. His mother, the Queen, is overbearing and he doesn’t appreciate it. I kind of felt like he wished he could be some normal (i.e eccentric) rich guy with odd tastes. But alas, that doesn’t happen and that’s okay. What does happen is that he comes into the possession of a portrait of a woman that completely devours his focus and life. He falls in love with it.
Unfortunately, a prince falling in love with a portrait isn’t good for royalty-business and he is to be married to a woman named Sonya, who, on first impression, wants to kill him . So sets off a chain of events where Harold, Turold (a mage), Harold’s servant, and Sonya, go on a quest to figure out the person ‘behind’ the portrait and other fun stuff.
I really liked the book when it was about finding out the mystery of the portrait and Harold was obsessed with it. Things happen and the shift changes. The character motivations change, big bad comes into play, and it turns…fairy-tale-ish? I mean fairy-tale-ish in that everything seems kind of happy at the end and not in the weird way. Weird stuff happens—the blurb tells you that.
The shift in the focus, which also happened to coincide with my mid-read hiatus, felt a bit jarring. But I was cool with it at the end, despite me wishing that it hadn’t have happened. Does that make sense? If the book hadn’t shifted focus, I would have been happy, but the plot switch-up worked because the author did it properly so I was pleased with the actual end.
Writing was solid, though, it felt a bit choppier than the other works but knowing that this was one of the earlier works of the author kind of explains that so maybe I’m just perceiving what I thought I’d notice in it. It’s still a great read, though.
To summarize my feelings again: Excellent premise and characters. Mid-book plot change that’s…alright, still works. (Mostly) Happy ending. Still kind of wishing to see an alternate reality without the plot change.
So: Enjoyable read, definitely recommend.
Grasso’s labor of love is evident throughout this work: his Shakespearean touch in parallel romances with confused identities and the Dickensian episodic adventures all interweaving to resolve in the end. But the way he deals with the fantasy elements is particularly interesting. Magic manifests in mostly mechanical ways, and that’s a good thing—magic conveys invisibility or speeds up travel (wouldn’t that be nice?!), or carries messages and curses through time and across barriers of life and death. The technological magic stays within bounds so that it is manageable by a clever magician, or a curse resolved with the proper action to assuage the passions of the one who set the curse in motion. The effect is, finally, a “can do” attitude that buoys the story with optimism and confidence. We can be pretty sure it will work out in the end, and the guy(s) will get the girl(s).
Prince Harold has a reputation as a rake and his mother Queen Astrid the usual complexities of such mothers—determination to see to her duties, a bit of corruption in keeping with her son’s alleged corruption, and money worries. They battle for the throne, but it’s not so easy to choose sides. Grasso quickly establishes Harold as a loveable naif who is actually innocent enough to fall credibly in love with the image in a portrait, and to set out with the help of loyal compatriots to find her. But Queen Mom does seem more competent, and she’s more nuanced than the usual Wicked Queen. However, the author does not fully develop the possibilities with her, and I kept finding myself wondering whether she was being revealed as okay after all or deceptively only seeming so. Does she really want the best for her son and the kingdom or does she use that motivation as a cover for her own purposes?
Such a large work is difficult to manage in all its parts, and I sometimes felt the episodes arrived at random, providing opportunity for Grasso to include a fascinating idea that might or might not fit well into the whole of the story. But I developed affection for these episodes—for example the account of a man in a coach visiting a family grave and getting a message there that explains in itself how curses and messages come through time, without that episode really furthering the plot at a crucial time. A gorgeous dream sequence early in the work captured my imagination, and the scene in the catacombs and underground tombs near the end provides one of my favorite passages:
“Mysterious figures peered into their torches as if desperate for the warmth of life. Sonya couldn’t resist touching the hands of an ancient woman frozen devoutly in prayer. They were smooth and cold. She looked into the woman’s eyes, which rather than looking upward were cast down . . . in submission or bitter disappointment? To die as a tomb effigy seemed the cruelest fate; better by far to be destroyed and erased from history to become something else. Life was painful enough without having to rehearse the same tired role throughout the ages.” (Loc 4603, Ch 42)
But while these characters explore, the Queen is meanwhile making a speech high above them, one that will go on for a while yet and was running even before they started the twenty-minute process to uncover the passage door to lead to the catacombs. That was some speech! Similar logistical problems crop up from time to time, and the unpredictable episodes (more could be done with the bookseller, e.g.) sometimes left me feeling dragged along through the narrative instead of “riding the wave” to follow the story arc.
Much ties together in the conclusion, and a delightful hint at further adventures leaves us expectant. A few loose ends remain, and a sense of feeling not quite satisfied at the development of some characters (Belinda is fully rounded, but her foil, Olivia, could use more visibility early on, and we lose Dimitri along the way, when a “true identity” for him has been hinted at a few times). More physical description of the two couples would help us envision their interaction—I’m fascinated that Turold’s lady love is not put off by his stature, e.g.
Despite these flaws, this is a rich, satisfying romp through a comfortingly familiar kind of fantasy world—one with manageable magic, good-hearted folk, and a sense of Happily Ever After. I look forward to reading more of Joshua Grasso’s worlds.