Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Review | Caught in Crystal - Patricia C Wrede

A classic YA series - that I had never read - Open Road Media is re-releasing the books as digital editions. So when they offered me a copy? Well, I accepted: having never read the Lyra books when I was the relevant age, this was my chance to review one. My initial thought? Caught in Crystal is definitely YA, but of an unusual sort.

For one, it possesses an older protagonist: a mother and former swordswoman, Kayl. For another, her children are far from the stars of the story - even minor ones. (This might not have been intentional, but they certainly succeeded in irritating me). Caught in Crystal is a traditional fantasy world, geared for younger readers instead - and with the cliches stripped out. There is no chosen one (as yet, anyway), the plot is not driven by destiny, and the twists, though relatively small, are unexpected.

So we've dealt with what the plot isn't - but it's high time I started on what it is. Kayl, former member of the Sisterhood of Stars, is dragged from a life as an innkeeper when acquaintances from her previous life arrive at the door. And then there's the threat of iminent death... (So far, so traditional). But they don't want Kayl for her ability. She's one of the only surviving members of the expedition to the Twisted Tower, and the Sisterhood suspects the Tower is somehow linked to the problems they've been having with their magic. And for a sisterhood of sorceresses? That's a big problem. Glyndon, an old friend, and Kayl will have to face their memories of the expedition, the antagonism of the Sisterhood, and discover what truly happened there. Because there are some curious disparities: and clues that there's a hidden manipulator at work...

The only thing that makes me shoehorn this into YA is the writing style - and the attitudes. Aside from that, this could be regular fantasy. And as such, it's a great bridging novel, crossing the gap between the two subgenres. As I've mentioned, the characters are irregular. But they're also not quite fully fleshed out: Kayl is sympathetic, but by no means is she - say - Kvothe. Well, it would be odd if she was - but I'm sure you see my point.

The twists, likewise, are interesting - and the ending unexpected. Unusually, Caught in Crystal avoids succumbing to one of my pet irritations: the flaw of escalation, in which interesting small-scale plots increase in scope to mean the fate of the world - without the rest of the novel gearing up to match. Leaving you with a rather awkward construct. Caught in Crystal sticks to what it's good at, and that is an important, but not world-shattering, occurance.

For an adult fantasy, Caught in Crystal is acceptable, but doesn't stand out. For younger readers, however, it makes an excellent bridging fantasy. When I was younger, this is the sort of book I would have liked to read. Avoiding the pitfalls of fantasy for younger readers, but with prose that suits the genre perfectly, this digital edition is well worth a purchase as a gift for any younger relations... Pity it's February, not December.

Find it here: UK US