Laini Taylor has crafted something nice here. She’s got some great characters, first of all. I admit, I didn’t connect very well with the main character, Magpie, at first. She seems a bit like the typical “tough girl” appearing in fantasy these days (you know, the one who is the utter polar opposite of the “doormat”), at the beginning. But Taylor uses her story not only to develop Magpie, but to unfold and reveal her deeper layers. She doesn’t just stomp and demand, sniping at everyone for perceived slights and making stupid moves to prove her “independence.” It becomes very easy to like her when she admits her mistakes, apologizes when she’s rude, and has the strength to ask others for help. (Can you tell I’m getting tired of having to swallow angry, mean-spirited women as “strong female characters”?)
The supporting cast is quite well done as well, most of them with very full personalities and dimensions. My favorites are Poppy (who isn’t in near enough of the book) and Talon. Oh, I adore Talon. He’s a “scamperer,” a faerie whose wings are too small to fly so he has to make do with flinging about the forest like an extremely acrobatic monkey on crack (in a good way). He’s immediately sympathetic, and just young enough that it’s cute, the way he’s so embarrassed about his talent for weaving. And he’s ends up having a great dynamic with Magpie.
In fact, Laini Taylor handles their relationship beautifully. I was a little worried at first, what with the air “fizzing” around them, and a few other indications of a destined love/love-at-first-sight kind of thing. But actually, Magpie and Talon start out a little snippy with each other (though not to ridiculous extremes), then develop a bond of friendship built on, among other things, mutual respect. As of the end of the book there’s no actual romance, but Taylor has built a foundation and the potential is definitely there, for future books, for a real, believable love connection. And in the meantime, their mutual little “I don’t want to admit it” crushes are cute and make sense in terms of who they are as characters.
Blackbringer also presents some good world-building, as well. Yeah, sure, fairies (or faeries), imps, demons, monsters, small forest creatures, they’re not things you’ve never seen before. But good world-building is more in the finer details than anything else. Like this:
Passing the stables, Magpie heard sounds within, beetles lowing to be milked and the bleat of hungry dray pigeons.
Dray pigeons. I mean, seriously. Dray pigeons. I can’t tell you how much I love that. Again, maybe faeries using small animals as livestock isn’t new, but it’s still a detail that a surprising amount of authors would miss. And really, dray pigeons! I’ve honestly never before seen the phrase “dray pigeons” in my life. These sorts of details really bring the world in Blackbringer to life.
Reading Laini Taylor’s prose is a bit like pulling on your favorite old T-shirt, if said T-shirt didn’t look like someone tried to napalm it (and failed). That sounds really weird, doesn’t it? But there’s nothing more comfortable or easier to wear than your favorite T-shirt, and her prose is reminiscent of that feeling. At the same time, it’s not just plain and serviceable. It strikes a lovely balance, somewhere close to the exact middle between “plain” and “flowery.” For example:
But Poppy no longer saw her. Though still half in the world, she was already lost in the dark. She faded. The color drained from her flesh and, with horror, Magpie realized she could see through her to the ground beneath. Then she couldn’t hold her anymore. There was nothing to hold. With a final shimmer the faint ghost-image of Poppy opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out and she disappeared, leaving only her shadow behind where she had lain.
Magpie lay bleeding on the stone with her arm curled around Poppy’s shadow. Then even that was wrenched from her as the Blackbringer dragged it too into the darkness.
I found this passage so haunting and vivid that I never forgot it, even after I put the book down. Part of what makes it special is that it’s one of few like it in Blackbringer. Though the prose isn’t noticeably different in the rest of the book, Taylor wisely chooses where to really up the drama. Nothing is overwrought or overly wordy, and she saves the best for when she really needs it the most. It’s extremely effective.
In all this gushing, I’ve forgotten to mention how the plot fares. It’s a pretty simple, basic story, with plenty of elements I’ve seen before. But it’s told so well, has its own voice, and is well supported by all the other facets of the book. There’s even a magic dagger and I don’t mind at all.
That isn’t to say that I had no problems with Blackbringer at all, but mostly minor quibbles. As I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t connect with Magpie at first, and she has a lot of potential to become something of a, well…Faerie Sue. She has loads of powers other faeries don’t (though some of this is explained, it’s still a bit much at times) and she was even dreamed into being like Jaenelle from Anne Bishop’s The Black Jewels. Still, I see no reason why Laini Taylor shouldn’t be capable of keeping this in check.
I also had some trouble adjusting to the, well, faerie-speak, I guess. The faeries’ English reads like a combination of pirate slang, New Orleans Yat accent, and Wiccan blessings. I did eventually get used to it, for the most part (though I thought for the longest time that I wouldn’t), with the exception of “Neh.” Neh is a substituted for “No”, but as it reminds me of lackadaisical mutterings like “eh” and “meh,” it’s not very effective as a shouted protest. Also, faeries apparently are allergic to the word “have,” because “they got to” and “they been” but they never “have got to” or “have been.” It’s a little weird and for some reason I kept twitching over it.
There were a few other things. I had some issues comprehending the sizes of things at times. Like how can faeries fit a bottle in a faerie-sized caravan, when said bottle is also big enough for humans to open? And do they take squares of human chocolate and make them into smaller squares, or are they really dealing in chocolate pieces that large? And how does one jump onto something’s back without anything to jump off of? Little things, mainly, but sometimes distracting.
Oh yeah, one final complaint — the illustrations are gorgeous and there are simply not anywhere near enough of them.
Overall, I enjoyed the heck out of Blackbringer and am really looking forward to Silksinger. My local bookstore didn’t have it in their database — grr — so I had to order it from overseas. Or wait at least a month for them to get it in their database. Easy decision, I think.