Sunday, 26 February 2012

Reign of Beasts by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Reign of Beasts, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, is the final instalment of the Creature Court trilogy. The series is excellent and a testament to how fantastic a writer Roberts is.

It’s not the kind of series where you can pick up the third (or second) book without having read the first two. Luckily for me, I read book one — Power and Majesty — and book two — The Shattered City — when they came out (roughly six months apart, I think). It’s a bit hard to review a third book without saying something about the other books and the series as a whole.

Power and Majesty introduced us to the day world and three friends who, between them, make dresses and garlands for the city’s many celebrations. Then we meet the Creature Court and their dysfunctional night world. It also had a particularly memorable opening of a naked youth falling out of the sky. (How’s that for a hook?)

The following is copied from my LibraryThing review of The Shattered City, which I wrote immediately after I finished reading.

Velody is struggling to keep the two aspects of her life separate: by day she makes dresses and by night she leads the Creature Court in the battle against the sky. It’s bad enough that most of the Creature Court would sooner tear each other apart than help each other. Now the sky is stepping up it’s assault on the city, making it harder for Velody to keep her two worlds separate. It isn’t long before the two worlds start bleeding together.

A secret war is being fought every nox between the Creature Court and the sky. The day folk have no idea it’s happening, but if the Creature Court isn’t careful, then normal people die. If the Creature Court loses the battle, then the whole city will be destroyed.
Dresses, violence, flowers, blood and sex. What more do you want?

This book doesn’t beat around the bush with the action and the reader is quickly launched into the midst of the story. Unlike the first book, there wasn’t a need for setting up the world or back story quite so much, so I felt it had good consistent pacing, whereas book 1, Power and Majesty, was a little slow at the start.

Two things really stood out for me with this book. The first was the juxtaposition of the day world with the events of the night (or nox as it is referred to). During the day we see Velody and her two friends making dresses and garlands and the Duchessa presiding over the never-ending festivals of the day world. During the nox, Velody and her Creature Court fight the sky which is trying to swallow up the city. The days are ordinary (or at least, as ordinary as days get in fantasy books) and the nox are full of violence, sex and blood, often simultaneously. The writing switches between the two flawlessly, even when the two worlds start to collide.

The other stand-out excellent aspect of the book was how unflinchingly the author doled out cruelty to her characters. Building on the troubled pasts established in book one, The Shattered City takes it to the next level by pushing all the characters harder and further and mercilessly inflicting emotional pain on them. It was very well done.

Overall, this was an excellent read and I highly recommending to anyone who didn’t hate the first book. And if you haven’t read the first book, what are you waiting for?

And that brings me to Reign of Beasts. I really felt this series improved with each book. Where the first two books were spent building the world and setting up all manner of conflicts, in the final instalment Roberts meticulously dismantles her world. It’s quite masterfully done and I will be surprised if Reign of Beasts doesn’t win any awards.

Throughout the series, Roberts sets up a variety of conflicts of all magnitudes. In the first book the challenge for Velody seems to be overcoming prejudice, expectations and the established group dynamics to become the first female Power and Majesty. While this bleeds into the second and third books, priorities shift and by the end of Reign of Beasts we learn who the true enemy really is. (No spoilers, but it takes a lot of twists and turns to get there.)

Roberts has populated her world with a variety of strong, wilful, petty, manipulative, animalistic, brutal, loyal characters who all elicit our sympathy at some point and our distaste at others. They are all far from perfect, yet none are quite pure evil. (Incidentally, of the three original girls, Rhian was my least favourite in Reign of Beasts and Delphine, unexpectedly, my favourite.)

A review of Reign of Beasts would be incomplete without some comment on the structure of the novel. There are two simultaneous time lines running through the book, the main one in the “present” immediately following on from The Shattered City, and the other recounting events from the Creature Court’s (pre start of main events) past. All the threads were expertly woven together to enhance the present story and convey interesting (as well as relevant) backstory.

The Creature Court trilogy is definitely worth a read for all fans of fantasy. It’s dark and brutal and pretty dresses are relevant to the plot.

5 / 5 stars

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