More enthusiastic burbling

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at
Mon Jun 7 16:24:04 EDT 2004

I just finished reading _The Cup of the World_, by John Dickinson, 
and was well impressed.  (Shouldn't really have finished it today, 
but hey, there are worse ways to spend a Bank Holiday, even a sunny 
one, and knew I wouldn't be good for much until I was finished!) 
It's Dickinson's first novel, but only very occasionally read like 
one (to me, at any rate), and only in the beginning. 

It's a medieval fantasy, with, of course, a typically patriarchal and 
monarchist set-up, and yet these typical elements are never 
unexamined, as they are all too often in medieval-type fantasies. 
Reading it, I thought at times of Deep Secret, Hexwood, Curse of 
Chalion and (more so) Paladin of Souls, The Perilous Gard, Sherwood 
Smith's Court and Crown Duet, and (fitting just perfectly in there 
with the others) The Woman in White, although I didn't find it at all 
derivative.  One of the things I especially loved was the complexity 
of the treatment of the main character, Phaedra.  She's powerless in 
the system, kicks against the traces, achieves an apparent victory 
over her powerlessness, and is finally forced to realise that there's 
been a huge price to pay for that seeming victory, which was in a way 
only temporary anyhow.  But she's neither a passive victim nor an 
unrealistically empowered female, and I think that balance is one of 
the things that reminded me of Curse of Chalion. 

Another thing which very much impressed me was the complexity of the 
moral shading of the book - certainly the main character, and I think 
many of the others, make choices which are revealed to have been bad 
ones, although some of the situations were so far from simple that 
the choice seemed totally right at the time.  In this book the big, 
surprising revelations were often surprising because they changed the 
moral viewpoint, rather than - 'OMG, she's really a man!', or 'He's 
really not human!' type surprises.  But I, for one, totally did not 
see where the story was going several times (though there were other 
places where you were doubtless supposed to know some brilliant plan 
would go wrong), and in fact am still a bit surprised at a few things 
having happened in a YA book.  Not along the lines of sex or deaths, 
but the bleakness of some resolutions.  In fact again, I still have a 
bit of trouble seeing this as a YA book - Phaedra is 15 when it 
starts, but 19 and a mother by the end, and there's almost the same 
kind of emotional mood towards the end of the book that there is to 
the beginning of Paladin of Souls. 

I do have a few criticisms, the main one, I think, being the possibly 
incongruous Christian/non-Christian setting, with a bishop, Lent and 
Easter but also the four Angels, messengers of the Godhead, though 
they seem more than messengers by the end.  I'd like to see the 
invented part developed more in the sequel (and at the moment I do 
hope it's just one sequel, so there won't be a terrible wait!). 
Other than that, and perhaps a *small* amount of over-writing at 
times, it was great.  Only in hardcover, atm, but for anyone who can 
find it in their library, I'd definitely recommend it.  (And -a note 
to Ros - if you come across it, go for it - no hesitation over this 


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