AWWC 2012 – The Creature Court Trilogy

Disclaimer: Aussie Spec Fic is a very small world, so in most cases I know the writers whose books I am reviewing. And, these will all most likely be very positive reviews, as I find it very hard to get motivated to go to the trouble of writing a review for a book that didn’t excite me. So, while you won’t get an impartial review, you will get the reasons why I loved a particular book, and why I genuinely believe it’s worth your time. This review was written as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, to find out more go here.

“She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled … He was also completely off his face.”

A war is being fought in the skies over the city of Aufleur. No one sees the battles. No one knows how close they come to destruction every time the sun sets.

During daylight, all is well, but when nox falls and the sky turns bright, someone has to step up and lead the Creature Court into battle.

Twelve years ago, Garnet kissed Velody and stole her magic. Five years ago, he betrayed Ashiol, and took his powers by force. But now the Creature Court is at a crossroads … they need a Power and Majesty who won’t give up or lose themselves in madness …

I was a bit annoyed with myself after reading Power and Majesty, the first book in the Creature Court Trilogy. After all, I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to get sucked into another fantasy series that wasn’t finished. There is only so much waiting for the next book to come out a man can take! I had only picked up Power and Majesty because at Swancon 2011 everyone had been talking about it and it had won the Ditmar. So, I thought I should check it out and, as it turned out, I devoured it on the plane flight back to Melbourne. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for the second book because at that point I was completely hooked. But, then there was agony of waiting for the final book to come out so that I could get some closure on one of the most addictive trilogies I’ve read in a long time….

It’s hard to classify the Creature Court trilogy, dark fantasy might be pretty close, but it has elements from all sorts of styles, from historical fiction to steampunk. I’d say that it is the perfect for people wanting a break from Epic fantasy, but that might give you the impression that it is light reading or lightweight which couldn’t be further from the truth. The author manages to pack in a vast range of ideas and a twisting, turning plot without ever putting the brakes on what is a cracking story. I read at least one of the volumes in a sitting, and all of them were incredibly hard to put down.

While some of the world’s features appear to be adapted from parts of our own history, it is not simply a thin veneer of fantasy polish whacked over a real world setting, the author has created a complex and convincing world, with its own customs and history. Unlike some fantasy worlds, the pieces fit together in a believable fashion and you can easily imagine the characters acting the way they do and the society working the way it does. But, there is also a disquieting sense of something not quite right about the daylight world and the sense that something is going on beneath – a feeling that is borne out as the story develops.

The characters are more than just the usual fantasy tropes, and each of them has a believable set of motivations that drive their actions and the story, rather than simply being ciphers. Over the course of the series it is hard not develop sympathy for even the nastiest of characters, and as someone who has little patience for moral ambiguity it is a mark of the author’s skill that I invested so deeply in all the characters and empathising with the nastiest of people. Immoral acts are not excused or consequences waived, but we are constantly given a convincing insight into why people act the way they do that is a nice change from the simplistic black and white that we find in too much fantasy. There is a rich back story that is gradually and skilfully revealed, throwing light on the way the characters interact and showing how the past impacts on the present. Velody especially is one of the best realised fantasy characters I have come across in a long time.

One of the things I admired most about this trilogy is that it serves as an example of how to tackle themes of gender and orientation.  It doesn’t pretend that sexism doesn’t exist, in fact gender roles play a huge part in the plot as the constraints that exist on women in this society and the way various characters attempt to transcend them are explored in depth. And it was refreshing to see how sexual orientation was treated, not in stereotypes or as the sole defining characteristic of a character, but simply as a part of the fabric of life and relationships throughout the story. But, there is never a sense of preaching, like everything else all these things serve the story and add to its resonance. As a writer, it’s given me something to aspire to.

The Creature Court trilogy is probably not for the prudish, being completely drenched in every bodily fluid you can possibly imagine, but even this is done in a way that only adds to the story. The air of rich sensuality which permeates the way characters interact with one another creates a hedonistic atmosphere, something which makes perfect sense as you read on. If you a little sheltered like me you might be tiny bit shocked at times, but there is nothing gratuitous, certainly nothing more graphic than many of the other fantasy titles in the bestseller list.

Despite the depth of the themes explored, the Creature Court trilogy is above all an entertaining and captivating read that deserves all the accolades it and awards it has received. I’m not going to say it is the best Australian fantasy trilogy I’ve read, it doesn’t need that qualifier, it’s one of the best I have read full stop. I read it at a canter the first time through, desperate to find out what happened and actually caught unaware by the ending, an ending that ties it all together very neatly and resolves the story perfectly (though I was very unhappy with the author for a while there for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing!!). I’ve since gone back and reread a number of times, enjoying it even more. If you are looking for a fantasy trilogy of the highest calibre to tide you over until the next volume in whatever ongoing series you are reading is released, then you can’t go past this magnificent story.

Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge

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