Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Nightspell by Leah Cypess
May 31, 2011; HarperCollins
A stand-alone companion novel to the much-acclaimed Mistwood. When Darri rides into Ghostland, a country where the living walk with the dead, she has only one goal: to rescue her younger sister Callie, who was sent to Ghostland as a hostage four years ago. But Callie has changed in those four years, and now has secrets of her own. In her quest to save her sister from herself, Darri will be forced to outmaneuver a handsome ghost prince, an ancient sorcerer, and a manipulative tribal warrior (who happens to be her brother). When Darri discovers the source of the spell that has kept the dead in Ghostland chained to this earth, she faces a decision that will force her to reexamine beliefs she has never before questioned - and lead her into the heart of a conspiracy that threatens the very balance of power between the living and the dead. (courtesy of Goodreads)
The young adult genre is full of fast, easy reads. And that is fine with me. I like being entertained without having to think too much. Sometimes though, having to do a little work to read a book is worthwhile. Leah Cypess' novels are not easy. You aren't flipping through the pages in great suspense; instead, you carefully read each page, because the little things are important. You don't spend half the novel sighing over the handsome hero; instead you savor complex, not always likable characters. Add to that a completely foreign world, where the only features familiar to us are political intrigue and human frailties and you have a lot to learn in one novel.
Leah Cypess is one of the new great high fantasy authors. She writes novels geared to teens, but mature enough to be enjoyed by adults. While high fantasy is still a relatively new genre for me, she is one of the best I've read at world-building. Nightspell is set in Ghostland, a kingdom where ghosts and the living reside together. Most of the novel takes place in a single castle and its surrounding grounds. With a limited setting, the reader becomes intimately familiar with the castle rather than be confused by an entire town's worth of houses, shops, etc. The castle feels medieval - I picture richly colored clothing and tapestries but a pervasive sense of darkness. It keeps the characters - and the reader - constantly on guard.
The idea of the ghosts is also fully explored. We learn what the ghosts are, how they came to be, and the difficulties of living/dead interactions. The ghosts are delightfully spine-chilling. At various times in the book, I hated, feared, cared for, and pitied the ghostly characters.
Ultimately, Nightspell is a character driven novel. It's slow and meandering. The plot flows smoothly, but takes its time to make sure the reader understands the good and bad of all the main characters. In addition to focusing on the individuals, Nightspell is a tale of family - of the bonds between siblings and how they can be broken and strengthened. The story alternates between the points of view of three siblings: Darri, Callie, and Varis. It takes a few chapters to get used to the switch, but I soon recognized each character's inner voice as soon as the viewpoint changed.
Darri is a fierce, hardened fighter. She is determined to save her little sister from a life in Ghostland, even if it means sacrificing Darri's future. Varis is the oldest brother, groomed to rule their land. He knows the ins and outs of the local politics of his kingdom and appears to place that ahead of his sisters. Callie is no longer the scared little girl who came to Ghostland four years before. She appears as refined and haughty as the Ghostland natives. To Darri's surprise, Callie doesn't welcome her siblings with open arms and isn't looking to go home. Callie was my favorite character. I loved understanding the mixture of anger, love, and resentment she had for her siblings. I enjoyed seeing how she adapted to Ghostland life, knowing the intricacies of the culture but always being an outsider. Overall, I loved how the relationship between the siblings broke down and healed over the course of the book.
While the characters are the most interesting part of Nightspell, there is a plot. Or more appropriately, plots, for there are multiple. Darri is trying to rescue Callie. Prince Kestin of Ghostland is trying to secure his place in the kingdom, which is not the sure thing it once was. The ghosts and the living are grasping over power. The stories are mysterious. It's not particularly suspenseful, but is consistently interesting. There was one specific point about halfway through where I gasped at the end of a chapter when the story took a turn that I never expected.
My only disappointment with Nightspell was Clarisse. I loved her enigmatic personality in Mistwood, her intelligence, her mixed motives. I was thrilled to see her in Nightspell, but I didn't think she lived up to Mistwood. She isn't a one-dimensional character here, but she doesn't have the depth that she did in Mistwood. Perhaps it's because she's not as central a character.
Nightspell is a wonderfully intelligent story. It's not the easiest book, but if you put a little into it, it will give ten times back. If you like character-driven novels, family relationships, fabulous world-building, and nearly romance-less book, you'll love Nightspell.