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Ilario: The Lion's Eye: A Story of the First History, Book One Paperback – Bargain Price, June 26, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
“[an] impressive first in a new series from British author Gentle...” (Publishers Weekly (starred review) )
- ASIN : B004E3XEM0
- Publisher : Harper Voyager (June 26, 2007)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 303 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0060821833
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060821838
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #11,271,555 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
"A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." -Delia Owens Learn more
Top reviews from the United States
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Gentle's world building is wonderful, but in this outing, the characters are not deep or engaging. Ilario, a "true hermaphrodite" possessed of functioning sets of male and female organs, is not as interesting a character as this setup suggests. Aside from an early sexual encounter and a midpoint attempt to marry, Ilario's sexuality seems unimportant to him/her, and is mainly important to the plot for the reactions it provokes in other characters. Ilario's true passion is to study art, and Gentle is moderately successful in portraying it. But Ilario's quest too often leads him/her heedlessly into danger-- a danger established in the first pages and which powers the plot as Ilario flees from it. The result is that Ilario comes awfully close to resembling a stock heroine of the too-stupid-to-live variety. (She's fiesty! She's spirited! She tosses her head and defies the hero! ..and gets into trouble and needs to be rescued! Again!)
Ilario is fortunate to immediately meet up with a stock romance hero-- Rehkmire' is kind, tolerant of Ilario's emotionaly outbursts, amused by his/her cheekiness, always ready to come to the rescue, and a voluntary eunuch. Unfortunately this paragon adds no tension to Ilario's story. Ilario's long lost father also makes an early appearance, and is in every respect the fantasy father that any orphan would dream of. This all too agreeable trio make dull traveling companions through Gentle's fascinating alternate Renaissance world.
The Lion's Eye ends in a cliff-hanger involving the most interesting character yet introduced-- that of an assassin sent to kill Ilario. I might read the second book to find out what happens to him.
This novel (the first in a trilogy) is set in an alternative XV century where people and events from our history are mixed with plausible ones, plausible if you assume Muslims (who are never mentioned) never conquered northern Africa which remained in the hands of Visigoths; that a schism divided the Christianity; that ellenistic Egyptians were forced (by whom?) to move to Costantinopole and reestablished their kingdom there.
A true hermaphrodite is chosen as the main character, a painter, which is not only potentially interesting but gives the opportunity to explore conventions, gender, society and physical places in an unconventional way. Yet this opportunity is not always exploited, Ilario looking for most of the time a spoiled brat (of whichever sex).
If assumptions are interesting there are downsides:
Ilario is 24 year old but generally acts and reasons like someone ten years its junior, despite the assumed time (in the middle ages people at 24 were married with children) and his having been brought up as a courtier/jester in a dangerous court. Sometimes, suddenly, the author chooses to show us how worldly and mature its upbringing has made it and we have a full grown, dangerous individual who nonetheless had time to train both as a soldier and as a lady but never achieved a decent skill in his chosen profession.
The plot is well contrived but at times rushed, at times slow to the point of dragging.
The writing is deliberately simple, made of short, abrupt sentences, everywhere we are made clear how painstaking the author's efforts have been.
All the above to say that I was bored most of the time (I still do not know whether I shall buy the second episode), the exceptions being nicely executed action scenes.
The book cover mentions "hot sex scenes" which are completely absent: there's one sex act, uncharacteristically muted, so that if I do not recommend this book to minors is not because of the sex but because of the effort it takes to appreciate the intended points of this work.
Insipid blurb on the cover aside, the book is a nice editorial object for a paperback: nice bookcover, fine paper, spotless printing in a most elegant font.
Borrow it before you buy it.
Be prepared to immerse yourself in medieval Europe, in books that have fascinating characterizations and relatively leisurely plot development. Read Ilario and Ash.
Top reviews from other countries
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am surprised by the negativity shown towards it as I think it's wonderful. It is certainly not as action-heavy as some of her other books, but that leaves more space for incredibly strong characterisation and realistic dialogue and character interaction. This and 1610: A Sundial in a Grave are easily my favourite books of hers. Ilario is different, so it's hard to know what to compare it to, but all of Mary Gentle's books are different and challenging and innovative, to each other as well as to other fiction. It starts pretty slowly, but it's appealing and honest and heartbreaking. And you get to learn a fair amount about medieval art as well.