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Passion Play Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 12, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Bernobich lays the groundwork for a trilogy, but leaves all her plot threads untied in this fantasy debut with a Renaissance Europe feel. The flower of a wealthy mercantile family, 16-year-old Therez Zhalina hates living at home, suffering as her father and grandmother fight, her mother cringes before her father's rages, and her brother withdraws. When she discovers that her father has picked out a cruel and power-hungry man to be her husband, she panics and runs away. Her trials during her flight are perhaps the most realistic in this coming-of-age tale packed with magic and politics. Therez, now called Ilse, quickly outgrows her naïveté and finds her salvation when she meets Raul Kosenmark, an exiled prince trying to save the world that rejected him. Just as she gets embroiled in Raul's intrigues and secrets and the story starts going somewhere, the book ends. Readers will be frustrated--and impatient for a sequel.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Ilse Zhalina is just 15 when her wealthy father decides to marry her off to a powerful guild leader many years older than she is. Unable to change her father’s mind, Ilse decides to run away. She finds passage with a caravan but is robbed and forced into prostitution by the cruel driver. When she finally makes her escape, Ilse flees to the city of Tiralien, where she’s taken in by Lord Raul Kosenmark, the wealthy owner of a pleasure house. Raul sees that she’s nursed back to health and eventually invites her to be the assistant to his secretary. Once Ilse sees Raul’s correspondence, she realizes the pleasure house is a front for Raul’s intelligence network of noblemen and -women. Raul and his cohorts fear a war is brewing between two powerful kings and are determined to stop it. As Ilse is drawn further into the intrigue, she finds herself falling for the enigmatic Raul, despite her fears that his affections belong to another. Bernobich’s debut is a rich, compulsively readable fantasy. --Kristine Huntley
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Top Customer Reviews
So, the plot basics. It starts with what looks like a fairly standard fantasy trope: a young woman of a wealthy family runs away from an arranged marriage. But "running away" turns out to be much more complicated than it seems, and then it turns out that the story isn't really about the arranged marriage at all; that's merely the impetus for a whole cascade of complex events, in which our protagonist tumbles into, and then seriously starts acting proactively within, a much larger story. Politics abound; there is some magic, and some combat, but a great deal of this is highly plausible political work behind the scenes, where there's more paperwork and planning than sneaking and stabbing.
My caveats first: I found the politics confusing and difficult to follow, because I'm terrible at remembering names. This did, alas, occasionally leave me going "What? Who?" at some dramatic revelations, because I just didn't remember who the named people were. But that's my own poor memory for names, and shouldn't be taken as a criticism of the book itself. The book ends, if not on a cliffhanger, at least on what's clearly the close of one act in a play: the biggest plot threads are all deferred for later resolution.
There was also some serious, horrible rape within the book, which I did not know going in, and which was an unpleasant shock when it arrived.
But this is the best handling I've ever seen of rape in a work of fiction. (An awkward sort of sentence to write, but it's true.) There is no glamorizing, no dwelling on the details, no quick fixes, no cheap tropes for rescue or revenge that Solve The Problem. Horrible things happen, and they matter a great deal, but they do not define the protagonist.
Which gets to the heart of this book's strengths. Every character, however briefly appearing, is clearly a complex person with their own motivations, no matter how Good or Evil by the standards of the reader or the protagonist. The entire book deals with emotions and relationships--and the amazingly complex tangles they get into--with an unusual, breathtaking sensitivity and grace. Even the family relationships, which are so front-and-center in the first few chapters, and then off-screen for much of the rest of the story, are dealt with in a way that shows it's never so simple as the Cruel Parent and Nice Parent, or the Breach Of Family Trust, or...well, any of those usual cheap solutions.
I occasionally thought that this book was going to pull in one of the tired standard cliches. About recovery from rape, about the love of a good man, about showing up those who didn't believe in you, about revenge, about redemption. It did not. It has emotional depth that I cannot praise highly enough.
In a way, I'd been avoiding Passion Play. I've known Beth online for a number of years, and while I knew she was a good writer (I'd read short stories of hers), I also liked her as a person, and that generally makes me antsy about reading someone's novels. There's always that awkward "oh god but what if I hate it?"
I'm so glad Tor finally made the ebook available in Africa, and that I took the chance. Because yes. This is the kind of fantasy I love - gorgeous worldbuilding, fluid sexuality, slow-burn romance, political and courtly intrigue, the simmering of potential war contrasted with a girl rebuilding her life and discovering who she is and what she wants.
I'm so glad that there are people still writing this kind of fantasy - Bernobich and Monette spring to mind - and I plan to go dig up some more because reading this made me realise just how much I love these kinds of stories. I will definitely be buying the rest of this series
And now for the slightly weird part of my not-a-review. (Ha!) If you enjoyed When the Sea is Rising Red, then go read this book. It's the kind of thing I *wish* I could write, and what WtSiRR could have been if I was a better writer
The story follows Therez, daughter of a well-to-do mercantile family whose dreams of a chance to travel to the capitol are cut short by an unexpected arranged marriage. As any proper heroine would, she runs away from home to escape the arrangements and seek her own destiny. After initial misadventures, she finds a refuge and home with Lord Kosenmark, who runs something of a shadow court in a desperate attempt to guide the king away from Bad Advisors and resulting disaster. This first volume of the set fulfils the role of extended training montage as Therez (now going by Ilse) gains the skills, knowledge, and confidence that presumably will serve her well later in the series. The story...let’s say “pauses” rather than “ends” with her embarking on a new position and adventure while Larger Forces set in motion the peril that presumably will fill up Book 2. This is very definitely a first book in a series and it shouldn’t be considered a spoiler to note that it doesn’t stand by itself as a complete story.
The setting includes a realistic diversity of characters and sexualities. There’s a strong focus on female characters, not only in the use of Ilse as viewpoint character. But about a quarter of the way through the book I was ready to throw it against a wall (except I was reading on my iPad, so not so much with the throwing) for the use of a particular trope that is a bit over-used in dislodging fantasy adventuresses from their initial starry-eyed view of the world. The particular trope provides a powerful motivation for Ilse’s situation and reactions, but that doesn’t erase the problematic nature of it in the larger genre picture. (OK, enough coyness, I’m talking about gang-rape.)
Overall, I enjoyed the world-building and the characters. I approve of the way exposition is doled out sparingly and in-line with the action. This is a well-written and mature work, despite my personal distaste for the one aforementioned plot element, and the further books in the series are lined up in my to-read queue, though not perhaps at the top of the list currently.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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