Friday, April 29, 2016

Book Review - Galen Beckett's The Master of Heathcrest Hall

The Master of Heathcrest Hall (Mrs. Quent Book 3) by Galen Beckett
Published by: Spectra
Publication Date: March 27th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 736 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Night and day start and stop when they wish. No almanac can predict the umbrals and lumenals. The red planet Cerephus grows brighter in the sky, easily seen during even the sunniest of lumenals. Despite all evidence to the contrary a grand conjunction looks imminent in the heavens. Ivy is convinced that she and Rafferdy have stopped the Ashen by trapping Gambrel behind one of the doors in the house on Durrow Street, but there is an ominous warning, "when twelve who wander stand as one, through the door the dark will come." Ivy is also plagued by dreams, dark and prophetic during the umbrals and the man called the black stork has visited again, warning her that the Ashen, the first ones, the ancients, the darkness between the stars are coming and they are hungry. But what is Ivy to do? She is pregnant and stuck in Invarel, unable to do much but read. One book in particular, The Towers of Ardaunto, might hold the key. While a seemingly lurid Gothic romance, Ivy is quickly convinced that it is actually about something much more. She thinks it is about her husband's childhood friend, Ashaydea, who was transformed into the White Thorn, the blade of the king's black dog. When Ivy learns the book was written by one of her father's fellow magicians she realizes that perhaps she misjudged some of the members of her father's magical order. Perhaps they are not all evil? Especially as these members are being killed for something they all possess.

The world is changing outside Ivy's windows as her confinement is enforced. The king has died and there is a lot of hemming and hawing about placing the crown on the head of his daughter. Any woman could be a witch these days, so can she be trusted? With the arrival of Huntley Morden on the shores of Altania the king's black dog, Lord Valhaine, uses the situation to his advantage, incarcerating the princess and seizing control for himself, casting down the crown. But Lord Valhaine is in thrall to Gambrel's High Order of the Golden Door and he will do their bidding, preparing the world for the arrival of the Ashen. Invarel devolves into a police state, with the government waging war against all of Altania, from it's people to it's Wyrdwood. The university is shuttered, knowledge is dangerous, magic even more so. Those who can are fleeing to their country estates, for those who must remain there are privations. Revolts are a regular occurrence, troops are everywhere, and The Theatre of the Moon is forced to remain open, entertaining the troops baser instincts. The puppet government starts to turn against those previously loyal to the crown and Mr. Quent is sent to prison. His death is one of many that will happen before the war ends, because it is war. Rafferdy joins Huntley Morden, Eldyn aids the rebellion, the two old friends now comrades in arms. But it's Ivy and her power that might save Altania. Ivy and a White Thorn.

There are books that you fall into and never want to leave. Yes, you NEED to know how it all turns out, but at the same time you're trying to think of ways to actually hide yourself in the pages of the narrative like Thursday Next and ignore the fact that there is an end in sight and you're getting closer to it each day. Just skimming The Master of Heathcrest Hall for this review was a dangerous task, I felt myself being pulled back into the story. I had to forcefully remind myself again and again that I had a job to do, and that job was to convert others to this series so that we can all go and live there together. Perhaps a little cottage just down from Heathcrest Hall? That would do me just fine. We can make our own subdivision of real people in this fictional world! The world that Galen Beckett has created is just as real to me as that created by J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. I know I will think about it often and long for times when I can dip into the pages again. But while I was reading it I had one major concern, and that was the safety of all these friends that I held dear and whether they would make it out alive, but more importantly, get their HEA. For a book with such great dangers and magical destructive forces that kill many it might seem unrealistic that everyone gets a HEA. But you know what I say? Who cares! This is fantasy, this is magic, this is the way I want all my books to end. Everyone ends up with love in their lives and a place in the world! What better ending is there?

One aspect of this volume that I wasn't so sure of at first was Ivy's prophetic dreams of prehistoric Altania. It felt like The Clan of the Cave Bear with magicians, but not in any fun and cool mashup. I think the reason I didn't at first like this plot contrivance was that it felt a little hokey doing this as a cold open for the book. The reader needed to be reconnected to Ivy before being shoved into her subconscious. Once the "dream" was more integrated into the plot I really started to like it. I started analyzing the dream for significance. Of course Galen does tie it all in together seamlessly in the end, I still think it needed a better initial set up. Because what this dream is really about is tying Ivy to her lineage. Forging a connection to all the witches that came before her. Basically, she's Buffy meeting the First Slayer, the Primitive. Think how long it was on Buffy the Vampire Slayer before we got into this mythos? Four long seasons. The episode that reveals the Primitive, "Restless," is one of the best pieces of television writing ever. We are shown dreams that are obviously connected to each member of the Scooby Gang that work there way to the reveal of the Primitive. Yes, Galen has forged a connection between us and Ivy, but that connection needs to be reestablished before diving headfirst into the mythos of this world. In fact, I think this slightly awkward opening is the only thing I can take issue with in this book.

What Galen does do seamlessly is continue expanding the magical system of his world. While there are the three set "categories" of magic with Magician, Witch, and Illusionist, he starts adding in people that fit between these hard and fast definitions. The most obvious is seen with Ivy's sister Rose. Rose isn't a witch, not being a descendant from any famous line like Ivy is, but she isn't without abilities. Rose sees colors. Perhaps they are only colors of magical people, because that is all she does see, but who knows? Anyone else want a spin off for Rose? It's clear that she is able to see the health and vibrancy of Ivy's unborn son, and it's Rose who realizes that Ivy has miscarried because the color is gone. But more importantly Rose answers the question that has been plaguing her family for years. She figures out how their father lost his mind. He didn't lose it so much as transfer his mind into the house on Durrow Street, giving it his consciousness and therefore protecting what was inside the house. He looks through the wooden eyes, he watches over his family. In fact Rose is able to see where he is in the house because his color appears, and she is even able to communicate with him. I love that Rose has this ability, not just because it shows the range of worldbuilding that Galen went to, but because it takes Ivy's sisters from being just background scenery from a Jane Austen novel and makes them integral to the plot.

But above and beyond all these magical "categories" there is Lady Shayde, she who was Ashaydea, Mr. Quent's childhood friend. I CAN NOT stress how enamored I was by her character development, because once again Galen shows that in his world, while men are important, the women are the true power. Lady Shayde at first defies explanation, she is a product of magic but something more, something unique, a tool that was created, but a creation in which she was complicit. She is the most feared of all and in fact if it wasn't for her, evil and Gambrel would not have been vanquished and the Ashen would have won. But what's so unique and provocative about the way Galen tells her story is it's with a story within a story. Ivy discovers the book, The Towers of Ardaunto, and she realizes over time that it's not just a lurid Gothic romance, but a bleak story about the making of a White Thorn. At first Ivy thinks that it was the book that gave the magician Mr. Bennick the idea to make Lady Shayde, but she eventually realizes that this is in fact the reverse. Another of her father's magical circle wrote The Towers of Ardaunto after knowing the story of Ashaydea. Shivers. Literally. Like The Tales of Beedle the Bard but written by Mrs. Radcliffe or Charlotte Bronte. In fact, is there anyway I could like read all of The Towers of Ardaunto? I'm not joking. The excerpts made me NEED this book in my life as well.

What was most powerful in this story though was the use of photography. Yes, it's not really "photography" and is an image captured by an illusionist and then projected onto a plate and printed, but it's basically the magical equivalent of a technology we are familiar with. What is so powerful is that Eldyn aids the rebellion more than anyone else by documenting the truth with his "impressions." Because an impression captured by an illusionist can not lie. Like photography before Photoshop, think how much of history, of The Truth, was brought to the masses through photographs? Words are well and good, but an image is literally worth a thousand words. Eldyn's capturing of the soldiers attacking students helps to shift the feelings about the government. The government says one thing, but here's a picture showing it as it happened so you can decide for yourself what the truth actually is. Being able to see an unadulterated image aids in the dissemination of knowledge. This new medium isn't just revolutionary, it aids the revolution. As an artist I love how Galen has, in a fantasy world, shown how an artistic medium has literally changed worlds. Yes, this might be fantasy, but fantasy reflects us and our society and our world. Therefore whenever people say they don't like a certain genre, I say give it a chance. Who knows what kind of book will reflect something back to you and perhaps open you mind.


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