Consorts of Heaven by Jaine Fenn

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Consorts of Heaven by Jaine Fenn

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: An interesting mix of traditional fantasy and science fiction. A little slow moving for my taste, but the character development and the basic idea are good enough to make it worth reading.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Gollancz
ISBN: 978-0575083233

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Fantasy and science fiction are genres that mesh well together. Some authors have written successfully across both genres, but not usually in the same story. Jaine Fenn has managed to combine both in one book and it's an interesting read.

One night, a stranger is found lying unconscious in a bog just outside the village of Dangwern. He appears to have come from nowhere and, apart from a strange piece of cloth lying near his naked body, there is nothing to suggest who he is or where he came from. Unfortunately, this includes the stranger himself, as he is suffering from amnesia and has no idea even where he is, much less how he came to be there.

Fortunately for Sais, as he is nicknamed, the boy who finds him is 'sky touched'. This means he is soon to travel to the City of Lights to be tested to see if he is worthy of being a consort of the goddesses. The village elders permit Sais and the boy's mother Kerin to accompany him to see if anyone there may recognise Sais or shed some light on his past.

The story begins as a fairly standard fantasy novel, with many of the usual elements you would expect to find. There are difficult living conditions, many conforming to old and impoverished ways of living by modern standards, which fantasy novels often thrive on. There are also all powerful gods, respected by all, and a journey to a major city from the edges of the world to seek knowledge not available elsewhere. There is a quest, one of the characters is special in a certain way the provides challenges as well as uses and others are battling adversity and unpopularity thanks to their past and hoping to become more than they are.

Most of this is fairly predictable and obvious enough and usually you would be able to see where the story would end up. But this is as far as the clichés go, as once Sais starts to recover his memory, it soon becomes obvious that Kerin's worldview isn't how it should be. From her point of view, worse news is to come in that her son's fate is not the glorious future everyone has been led to believe it would be. This means that the priests of the world are in for an even bigger shock than the average believers. As Sais' true identity comes back to him, the story adds some science fiction type elements that never looked likely from the beginnings of the story and the book edges away from the standard fantasy type tale as the two genres collide and settle down quite comfortably together.

Apart from the clashing of genres, one aspect of the story that is done particularly well here is the character and plot development. With Sais being an amnesiac stranger, he is completely unaware of the world he finds himself in, knowing nothing of their religion or their ways of life. This means that the reader has a character in their shoes; on the outside, looking in and starting from scratch and the necessity of explaining everything to Sais in very simple terms benefits the reader hugely, as it provides a very basic introduction to the world. With this fitting in so well with the story, it never seems forced or unnatural and it is the kind of introduction that very few novels provide. In return, Sais introduces new thinking to the people he meets and this helps the genres mesh a lot better, as the reader gets both explained in simple terms as they are explained to characters who simply wouldn't understand otherwise.

In much the same way, being a complete stranger helps with the character development. No-one knows anything about the other, so when a certain person reacts to a character in a particular way, based on a past the reader knows nothing about, it needs to be explained to Sais, with his knowledge growing alongside the reader's. Indeed, Sais knows very little about himself and his voyage of rediscovery is slow and gradual, allowing both us and the other characters to learn about his past as he goes. This allows for a gradual and natural introduction to the characters which, again, is rarely present in other books of this type.

Whilst this gentle build up does work well for the character and plot development, it does mean that the pace of the story is a little slow for my personal tastes. There is a long journey to be made and a lot to learn about the world and the characters and whilst this is all necessary for the story, it does seem to take quite some time. As the story reaches a climax, things move a lot quicker and the contrast between the two parts is made even more evident by the ending, which seems to happen in a bit of a rush, making the opening seem even slower by comparison.

These things aside, though, it is a book that provides plenty of entertainment. The basic idea and the meshing of the genres works very well and the character development and the way that is accomplished is certainly better than in many such books. The pacing may be a little uneven, but whilst this is a minor annoyance, the aspects of the book that set it apart from many across both genres are ultimately what win out and make this a curious, but worthwhile read.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading – For another decent combination of genres, check out The Reliquary Ring by Cherith Baldry.

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