What an interesting second book.
When I reviewed Jaeth’s Eye, I noted that there was a drip-feed narrative that requires the reader to surrender to it and accept that for a time, they won’t fully grasp what’s going on. This for me became a feature of the novel rather than an issue, but YMMV depending on how much control you feel you need as a reader. With Aina’s Breath, Villoso has veered away from that style somewhat – while it’s still a rich and complex narrative in a fully realized world, it’s markedly easier to follow.
As with the first novel, the strength lies in its characters. Their motivations and behavior are consistent, each character a distinct and complex voice. A wonderful theme that has come to be quite dear to my heart in Villoso’s work is a focus on the type of character who would be sidelined as a nameless peasant in other fantasy novels. These protagonists are tripped up by real world problems in addition to the apocalyptic issues faced in a world full of magic. Our heroes are dealing with poverty, lack of education, class issues. For our non-“chosen one” protagonists, their goals are merely to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. As in real life, not everyone sets out to save the world, and when you have nothing, wanting anything can seem insanely ambitious and hopelessly out of reach. It’s refreshing to read these struggles, and the value of ordinary people against a fantastic backdrop. Some of our characters may not have magical powers or super strength, but the qualities of grit, determination and a level head often prove to be of equal value. But that’s just my personal favorite theme – don’t get the idea that this is some kind of downer. There’s plenty of witty dialogue, magic, monsters and fun to be had.
The pacing in Aina’s Breath is a curious thing. Scenes that can occasionally feel slow and ponderous are frequently later revealed to have been densely packed with information, woven neatly into the narrative without actually feeling like exposition. Eagle-eyed readers will love the clever use of foreshadowing, and several times I found myself caught off guard by a reveal only to go back and see that nope, I just missed the clues.
The last 10% is absolutely bananas, breathless good fun. If you read Jaeth’s Eye and put down the series because you found it tough to follow, I’d urge you to take another crack at it. In addition to the shift in style, Villoso has now written some guides that are sure to help you keep track of the characters, places and goings-on, all of which have been really helpful to me:
All in all, I’d absolutely recommend the time investment. This is a series that I know I’ll find something new in on each re-read. 🙂
/r/Fantasy Bingo 2017 Squares
- Not the First in a Series
- AMA Author
From Aina’s Breath:
Ceres arrives with two glasses of what appeared to be blood orange and green berry juice with crushed ice. Sapphire takes one from her, tastes it, and coughs. “Good grief, cousin… did you drop half a bottle of spirits into this?”