Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Guest Review of Havenstar by Glenda Larke

I read Havenstar by Glenda Larke several years ago, after having acquired a second hand copy of the out of print paperback version. Recently, Larke re-released an ebook edition of Havenstar, but to the excitement of fans (there were some copies of the second hand paperback being sold for ridiculously high prices on Amazon — money which sadly the author never saw). I purchased the ebook so that my husband could read it as my paper copy is currently in another country. And so, since I don't know when I'll get the chance to re-read it, I also asked him to review it. Behold, a review of Havenstar by Mr Tsana!

Havenstar, the first book published by Glenda Larke in 1999 and now re-released as an ebook, is a story about order, freedom and maps. The world of Havenstar is consists of two parts, the terribly unpredictable Unstable, where the footprints don't linger and the terrain can change at all times, and the human communities eked out in the Stabilities, places protected from the chaos by the strict rules of the religious Chantry. Slowly the Unstable is encroaching on more and more of the stabilities as the evil Chaos Lord Carasmas spreads his influence.

Keris Kaylen is the gifted daughter of a mapmaker who is not allowed by the Chantry to succeed him in his store due to her gender. Circumstances conspire to force her out of the Stability and into a journey through the chaos with a motley group of travellers on a quest to prevent the eventual destruction of the Stablities.

The world-building was fascinating. In the Stabilities, the Chantry forces everything to stay the same. No new gardens, no new houses, even mining and wood harvesting is kept to a minimum. Changes are only made at the discretion of the Chantry. In the Unstable, the only human settlements are on small patches of land that have proven resistant to the chaos, and even then they only last for so long before the Unstable reasserts itself. Anyone crossing the Unstable is also at the mercy of ley-lines, rivers of magic that can turn people into twisted mutants who are banned from the Stabilities.

While the basic structure of the book's plot was very classic fantasy (motley group, journey across the land, evil Lord to defeat) the issues explored in the book are very modern. It illustrates the cruelty of enforced gender roles and the danger of blindly following tradition. It lacks a little subtlety, considering that pretty much all the characters seem designed to investigate some issue, but the characters are given enough depth for it to not be too off-putting. I did read Glenda Larke's later books first, which I feel are more nuanced with their exploration of issues, so it's possible that I only felt Havenstar wasn't subtle because of a comparison with her later books.

I'd also like to say that it's nice to see a fantasy book that actually involves a mapmaker, considering how many books have a map at the start. In Havenstar, mapmakers straddle the boundaries between the Unstable and the Stable. They must venture out in order to map the ever-changing Unstable, but in drawing the map they impose some semblance of order on it.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who wants a little bit of social criticism in their fantasy or wants to see mapmakers get just a little bit of credit for all the maps in fantasy books.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 1999 as a paperback from Virgin, a publisher which folded shortly after publication. Ebook (cover shown above) released in late 2012 and a new paperback version will be coming out in May 2013 from Ticonderoga Publications.
Series: nope.
Format read: ebook
Source: Purchased from Smashwords
Disclaimer: Review by Tsana's husband
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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