Book Review: The Vanishing Throne – Elizabeth May

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The Vanishing Throne, the second book in Elizabeth May’s debut series, is an intriguing fantasy novel with a considerable flair for the dramatic. Highly detailed and cleverly written, it’s a fresh and exciting contribution to the young adult genre, practically packed to the rafters – and beyond – with interesting concepts and mythology, vibrant imagery, and highly laudable characters of all shapes and sizes.

A female protagonist often brings about vaguely insidious concerns about ‘strong female characters,’ but the women in The Vanishing Throne have strengths that walk hand in hand with weaknesses, and over the course of the narrative, if either is ever proven to be stronger or more prevalent than the other, it is certainly not for long. Without exception, they experience a significant amount of varied character development, and defy simplified, careless categorisation. It’s impressive, not to mention refreshing, and even something of a blessing.

Phew.

Time for a coffee break.

The aforementioned female protagonist is Aileana Kameron, the Falconer from which the series is named. The previous novel concluded as she fell through a portal that she had failed to close, and The Vanishing Throne enters the game to narrate what happens after, as, under increasingly worse circumstances, Aileana is forced to fight for her life, her freedom, and the desperate survival of the tattered remains of the world she no longer belongs to. It’s a seemingly impossible struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds, uphill all the way, but Aileana is gifted with powers far greater than she could ever have imagined, and the potential to achieve truly exceptional things. From the ashes of her past she rises, stronger than ever and twice as deadly.

That was good coffee.

I enjoyed reading The Vanishing Throne. It had may admirable qualities, some of which I have rather over-excitedly mentioned in my dubiously lengthy introduction, it’s certainly well written, and it’s a laudable contribution to a genre that is – and possibly always will be – often tragically misunderstood, treated to a disdain that it certainly has not earned.

For starters, the characters are well defined and interesting, with enough variation to be realistic, and yet comfortably co-exist in the established setting. While the protagonist, Aileana, is really rather predictably in possession of a bog standard Tragic Past™, she is also able to recognise her own faults, determined not to yield to unhappy circumstance, and painfully aware of the consequences of her actions. She directs a great deal of effort towards helping those that she cares for, often in a typically self-sacrificing, heroic fashion, and attempts to shoulder the kind of blame that might more sensibly be shared around, but she is also unafraid of the connections she has to others, or of listening to the timely input of her own emotional reactions. As such, while her core traits are undeniably recognisable, especially in this genre, the complexity of her portrayal arguably lends her characterisation realism, and that is, undeniably, an asset.

(She says, nodding sagely.)

Additionally, I defy you to find a hero that doesn’t have at least a few of those seemingly indispensable heroic qualities, alongside a hefty portion of biting wit.

It’s practically legendary.

(See what I did there?)

The other characters are equally well defined, and although their characterisation is not explored quite as thoroughly as Aileana’s, that is entirely understandable from the basis that they do not occupy such a central part of the narrative. For their part, they are developed more than sufficiently, they are given opportunities to grow and change in distinct, variable ways, and they share the same admirable complexity.

The plot has a clear structure, and although it may yield to predictability on occasion – such as the eventual defeat of previously insurmountable forces – it is easily interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention, and cleverly imbued with many surprises. Enough detail is provided that a newcomer to the series isn’t left floundering, and at the same time, there isn’t too much dull recapping for readers familiar to the books to get bogged down in. The Vanishing Throne exists in the undoubtedly advantageous position of functioning well both as a standalone novel and as an effective part of the series in which it was written.

Boom.

In fact, the only negatives I could decide upon were the arguable predictability of the plot, and that the writing lacked some sophistication. This may be somewhat hypocritical to claim, given the limits of my own vocabulary, but I felt that more variation in the writing, and a greater effort to employ varied imagery and other similar tools of the trade would have given the multiple admirable components of the novel greater impact. Thus, I have given The Vanishing Throne four stars for the many commendable qualities mentioned above, but only four stars because of that final point.

Regardless, I would certainly recommend The Vanishing Throne – and have, already – and will be looking out for more of Elizabeth May’s work in the future.

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