AWW2012 #2: Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

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 am a huge fan of Tansy Rayner Roberts, both in respects to her fiction and the work she does outside of fiction (reviewing, podcasting as a member of the Hugo-nominated Galactic Suburbia.)  When she announced that she was going to writing her own version of an urban fantasy series, I was pretty excited.  And when I saw the beautiful cover for the first book, Power and Majesty, I was even more so.  Seriously, check out that gorgeous cover!  It reminds me very much of the original covers of Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books (which may have been deliberate on the part of the publisher, since I believe that fans of the Black Jewels books would very much enjoy Roberts’ Creature Court trilogy).

I pre-ordered this book before it was released, and have picked up copies of both books two and three (The Shattered City and Reign of Beasts respectively; reviews of both will be forthcoming).  I have read books one and two previously, and have embarked upon a reread before I read the recently released third book.

Upon rereading, I’ve found myself even more in love with the world of the Creature Court than before.  Roberts’ worldbuilding is subtle but extremely powerful.  There are no rambling, florid descriptions of the city of Aufleur, and yet the city lives and breathes and completely real.  It is almost a character itself, as the daylight people celebrate a seemingly never-ending cycle of festivals (one gets the impression that all the work done by the people in the city is undertaken only to sustain these festivals) and during the nox (night), a different kind of people come out – the Creature Court themselves, shapeshifters who fight a war unseen by the people of the day.

We are introduced to both worlds through Velody, a girl who has come to Aufleur with the ambition of becoming a dressmaker.  She secures her apprenticeship and is well on track to the career she desires when, abruptly, the Creature Court intervenes in her life.

Velody is an amazing protagonist – she grows and discovers her strengths, but never loses her essential humanity and practicality.  She manages to balance two lives, but never loses sight of the fact that she needs and wants to work.  She also never evolves/devolves (depending on your point of view) into the typical heroine seen in a lot of urban fantasy – we see her developing some harsher edges, but there’s no hard talking or butt-kicking in a physical sense.

Velody’s friends Delphine and Rhian are also fascinating characters – they are both well-defined, and one gets the impression that this book has only just barely begun to explore them.  They are both strong in their own ways – and both highlight the many different kinds of strength that can be had.  Nurturing is strength, as is the ability to conquer one’s fears when needed.

The Creature Court itself is made up from an array of characters, all of them at turns witty, frightening and fragile.  One of the fascinating thing Roberts has done with her shapeshifters is considering pure mass – a human body can transform into a flock of birds, several cats or dozens of mice.  Their magic is unique – they have abilities other than the simple ability to shapeshift (including, for those powerful enough, the seriously disturbing chimera form).  As with some of the exploration of character, there is a definite impression that the magic system is just barely explored here, and there is much to be learned still about the Creature Court and the city of Aufleur.

Roberts has an exceptionally deft hand when it comes to dialogue, and her characters really live when they are speaking.  Some will also appreciate the detailed descriptions of dresses (which makes sense, since Velody is a dressmaker).   There is a good balance of quieter, more introspective moments with scenes that are pure, hectic action, with the pacing guaranteed to keep you turning pages once you’re hooked into the story.  There is also a decent amount of sex and violence, should these be issues you wish to stay away from.

One other thing I have to note is the thought that’s gone into a lot of the plotting.  There’s the aforementioned mass of shapeshifters, but there are also other nice little details – like a character actually noting that his arm would get tired holding a sword to someone’s throat for a long period of time, and adjusting accordingly.  Velody also takes into account what she will be doing when she dresses, so we don’t get to see her running around on rooftops in high heels.  It’s all very refreshing, and gives the book a feeling of realness.

I set down this book and immediately picked up the second to read.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this series to anyone who enjoys urban fantasy or dark fantasy like Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels books and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books.

The Creature Court books are available in Australian bookstores and have recently been released on the Kindle.  You can purchase the Kindle version of Power and Majesty at Amazon.