Dec 3, 2012

Brokedown Palace, by Steven Brust

"Brokedown Palace" reads much more like a fable or fairy tale than a novel, which makes it an interesting curiosity, though I'm not sure it makes it any better of a book. Reading the novel, one gets a sense that the words are almost holding their breath; there is more they want to say, but Brust has left them to only scratch the surface of the story. The land of Fenario, its surrounding world and the mythology that supports i,t sounds really interesting, but we only get a hint of a taste of it, and skim across the top while great depths below are left undiscovered.

The writing is generally good, and its ephemeral quality is sustained throughout the book. There were two things that bothered me, though. First, the characters are almost caricatures of personality types. Each persone has a strictly defined personality with very little room for change and development. The people who fought hardest against the inevitable outcome end up killing themselves, rather than try to live with their new reality. People with ineffable sadness remain ineffably sad, even when they get what they want. This goes against the basic tenant of a fairy tale, wherein transformation is key. Second, the miniature fables in between each chapter of the book are quite amateurish. I like the idea of delving into the mythological history of the land, but the stories read (almost exactly) like stories I was writing when I was fifteen. Mythological fable is often simplistic, yes, but the forced, almost "countrified" voice they are written in is hokey and bizarre. So in the end, I appreciate what Brust was trying to create, and though he certainly achieved the right feeling, I'm not sure that accomplishment lead to a successful novel.

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