I just spent the weekend on a ship, with very limited Internet access, so I’m afraid this month’s review is a bit late. The good news is that there is a self-published book review this month. I’d like to keep the monthly schedule going, so please keep sending me books to review–see the instructions here.
Clearwater Dawn by Scott Fitzgerald Gray is a love story. It’s about the love between the half-Ilvani orphan Chriani and Lauresa, the daughter of an Ilmar prince and a sorcerous Leisanmira.
Chriani is the apprentice of Lauresa’s warden, Barien. At the age of eighteen, Chriani should have his own commission, but his temper, and Barien’s outsider status at court, have left him an unranked tyro. Despite this, he is very good at his job, aided by the preternatural senses he inherited from his Ilvani father, and the training in moving quietly and picking locks he received from his mother. On a night of betrayal and death, Barien is murdered, and Prince Chanist marches off to war against the Valnirata Ilvani war clans. Chriani is left behind, unofficial guardian of the princess, sole keeper of Barien’s last words. When Lauresa hears them, and learns that Chriani was unable to share them with the prince before he left, she heads out to make sure her father learns of the betrayal Barien revealed. Chriani catches up with her before she gets far, and accompanies her to find her father, who may know more than they expect.
Clearwater Dawn slowly builds the tension of the underlying mystery. Who is the traitor? What is their goal? Are they trying to push Prince Chanist to war, or are they trying to end the war before it begins by killing him? I found the answers genuinely surprising, which is something that I appreciate when it happens.
But as a love story at its core, the real question is how well the relationship between Chriani and Lauresa is developed. Mr. Gray takes advantage of the fact that much of it happened off-screen. When they were younger, Chriani was given the duty of personally training Lauresa in the arts of war, including the bow and the sword. This training was abruptly brought to an end three years ago, likely due to the improper closeness between the common-born Chriani and the princess. Right before the novel starts, Lauresa has been pledged to marry a nobleman her father’s age, giving any renewal of their relationship a sense of urgency. They each have their secrets, Chriani’s Ilvani blood and the sorcery Lauresa inherited from her mother. And as circumstance and necessity throw them together, and they learn each other’s secrets and work through the fear and danger each carries, they begin to renew the love that had never truly faded between them. This shared history and sense of urgency helped make this critical part of the novel work.
One aspect of the novel that didn’t work as well was Chriani’s temper. Too often it seems to cloud his reason, and make him do truly stupid things. Which is how we, and Chriani himself, are supposed to view it, but I still feel it was overused, and that I didn’t need constant reminders that Chriani had a bad temper. He also spends too much time worrying and thinking about his problems, his mind constantly gnawing on what’s bothering him. This struck me as realistic, in the way people tend to fixate on their worries, but it’s annoying enough to experience when it happens to me, and it’s certainly not much fun reading someone else’s circular thoughts.
I also would have preferred if the main plot had gotten under way sooner. While the novel starts strongly, it takes some time to get to the journey that makes up the core of the novel, and the time spent kicking around the citadel before then doesn’t do as much to further the plot as I’d like. Some of it productively builds the mystery and develops the relationship between Chriani and Lauresa, but I felt that it could have done much of that on the road, since even there not a lot happens until the forced proximity of the journey.
Near the last third of the book, the pace picks up, Chriani starts to put the pieces together, and he’s forced to fight for his life and Lauresa’s against numerous conflicting factions. This is when the novel comes into its own, and resolves the questions that have been building since the beginning. I do feel that the hasty denouement could have been drawn out a bit more, however.
Whatever weaknesses it had, once I had finished the novel, I immediately bought the sequel for the flight home.
Donald S. Crankshaw’s work first appeared in Black Gate in October 2012, in the short novel “A Phoenix in Darkness,” and he and his wife have recently published the anthology Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith. Donald lives online at www.donaldscrankshaw.com.