The Bitterbynde Trilogy

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The Ill-Made Mute by Cecilia Dart-Thornton

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Fans of the fantasy genre often complain that too many novels follow the same old elf, dwarf, troll formula of good vs. evil. At, we agree with this view after looking at countless Tolkien, Jordan and Brooks clone novels. A refreshing break from this trend is The Ill-Made Mute. Despite this being Ms. Thornton’s first novel, she brings a fresh perspective to the fantasy novel and presents us with an intriguing world that is constantly full of surprises.

A deformed, orphaned mute is rescued and nursed back to health by a kindly old woman. Forced into a life of servitude to survive, the mute secretly wishes to sneak aboard a Windship and sail away from the accursed tower where she is the constant target of abuse (both verbal and physical). She dreams of one day finding a cure for her disfigured features, regaining her lost voice and investigating her unknown origins.

After stowing away aboard a Windship, the mute is rescued by a kindly adventurer who teaches her sign language and gives her a name…Imrhien. Imrhien now embarks on a journey to the city of Caermelor to seek the council of a learned woman who may be able to heal her hideously scarred visage. Along the way, she has many harrowing experiences and is constantly harassed by inhuman wights which seem to exist only to plague helpless human beings. In addition, with the help of Thorn, a mysterious ranger fanatically loyal to the king, she steadfastly pursues a cure for her ills and tries to unlock the secrets of her past.

The quality of the writing in this novel is extremely good and reminiscent of Tolkien. I would never have guessed this was the first novel by this author. The book is extremely polished and the story flows very naturally. The writing is very descriptive (which I confess was annoying at times) but the well-designed plot kept my attention throughout the book. Although this is not a slam-bang adventure story, there is enough action to keep the adventure-minded reader engaged while still satisfying those who prefer characterization and detailed description to fights and battles.

The human society in this world is feudal-like and the human beings inhabiting it seem to have a very poor understanding of the inhuman wights that surround and harass them. Since Imrhien knows nothing of the world she inhabits, Thornton could have fallen prey to the temptation of having other characters provide vast knowledge "dumps" to get Imrhien and the reader up to speed. However, her approach was to educate the reader and Imrhien bit by bit through various ancillary characters telling fanciful stories around campfires, hearths and taverns. Although an unusual method of conveying information, it worked extremely well in this book and seemed a very natural way to learn about a new land.

This series is definitely planned as a trilogy, so the ending of this book may not satisfy every reader. There are innumerable questions left unanswered. However, for me, this just serves to make me impatient for the next volume, which I will definitely read. I am hooked, as I believe you will be! With this book, Ms. Thornton clearly shows she has the ability to become a major force in the fantasy arena. Warner Books has a real winner on their hands here. Look out Mr. Jordan and Mr. Brooks! Ms. Thornton is here to stay!

Reviewed by Alan

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