When I first saw this book, I knew it was for me. The title and cover alone might have even been enough. But then I read that it was a retelling of King Lear (which I haven’t read since high school, so I’m fuzzy on the details, but I am a huge fan of retellings in general) with lots of strong female characters and an abundance of magic. Essentially, that’s a list of almost all my favorite things.
Just a quick plot recap here, since many of you are going to already be, at least vaguely, familiar with the plot (again – retelling). This is the story of three sisters: Gaela (the warrior), Regan (the politician), and Elia (the magician/priestess). Their father, King Lear, is slowly going mad and the future of their country, Innis Lear, is in grave jeopardy. There are factions that support each daughters’ right to rule, but their different styles threaten to pull their people and their land (literally) apart.
Wow. I am really having trouble quantifying my feelings about this book. To start, I won’t lie, it was a little hard to get into. The details come hard and fast, especially regarding the stars/star-reading based religion that King Lear adheres to, without a lot of explanation. The same goes for the terminology, political details and various other bits of background/baseline information we get at the beginning of the novel. Plus (and by the end I really liked this, so take this with a grain of salt), the story is told from a number of different perspectives, and the interactions are deep and complex, so it took a while to get a handle on them. It is a lot of effort on the part of the reader. Perhaps that’s why it took me almost three months to read this book (very out of character for me)…primarily to get through the first couple hundred pages. It was slow going. But around halfway through, I caught the pace and things started to move faster. In fact, it only took me a week or two to get through the entire second half. Once I had a better grasp on the details, I got really into the story.
The characters are incredibly well developed, with lots of depth both within themselves and in their interactions with the rest of the “cast.” And that’s not just the three main heroines, but the entire group of supporting characters as well, like Elia’s childhood friend (now wizard), Ban, the witch of the forest, Brona, the neighboring king, Morimaros, and the daughters’ uncle, Kayo (among all the rest!). The environmental aspects, like the magic in the land and the way that was interwoven into the politics of the people, was also phenomenally developed. And the way the plot followed the original Shakespeare version in some very smooth ways (and in typical Shakespearean tragedy fashion, the death and bloodshed and drama are on pointe), while also having a number of instances where it diverges in creative ways both large and small, was exactly what I look for in a retelling.
The writing itself was intense, intricate and lushly detailed. Part of the reason that the story was so…much…was due to the writing. Like the rest of the aspects of the novel, it wasn’t at all fast or easy, but the way it fit the plot was so right. The atmosphere created by the writing was spectacular and, like I said, once I got far enough in, I was completely sucked in.
Altogether, this retelling was incredibly epic. I wish I had been able to get into it sooner; the slow start really threw me off. I struggle to give this book perfect stars when it was such a struggle at the beginning. I think that many readers, almost myself, would have just abandoned this book when, a couple hundred pages in, things were still “meh.” However, I am amazingly glad that I, eventually, stuck with it. Just…still… In any case, if you are looking for a fantasy novel that will suck you in, with strong women of many varieties, lots of magic, and complicated relationships/choices, this majestic, sweeping story should be in consideration.