My first ever Kindle Paperwhite book. Well, not quite first ever. I tried another book that was so awful, I couldn’t even finish beyond the first chapter. And by ‘awful,’ I mean that I think I read something similar when I used to grade 9th-grade English papers, only they were a bit less misogynist. But I’ll save that for another time. I just point out by way of comparison that diving into Fox’s Bride ended up being a relief, an example that it is possible to be creative, to build a beautiful world and to create dimensional characters.
Fox is the second in a series, but because of my unfamiliarity with the Kindle, I read it out of order. Luckily, Marling writes a stand-alone story. It opens with a sleep-plagued older enchantress visiting a foreign city with her bodyguard, known as a Spellsword. She’s at a reception with the city’s elite when one of the local gods, a trickster embodied by a fennec fox, singles her out from among the crowd. The priests interpret this to mean the trickster has found his new bride. Initially annoyed, it becomes serious when she learns being the bride means both her and the ‘god’ will be sealed in a sarcophagus as part of the marriage ceremony.
I found characterization to be interesting and done well. The jewel enchantress, Hiresha, is experienced and confident in both craft and social position. It’s rather enjoyable to have a female lead that isn’t twenty, who believes in sculpting her life as she would a jewel: “‘There is nothing more vulgar than the unplanned,’ Hiresha said. “A life isn’t great by chance, but by design.'” A classic character flaw, she is going to have to learn that not everything can be planned, and adaptability is an asset.
Her guard, Chaundur, is both younger and naive, maintaining confidence in his upbringing and faith. I thought Marling did a very nice job at capturing his certainty without him seeming merely thoughtless: “A pang race through him, knowing that Hiresha would soon leave this world for the gods’ realm. Don’t be selfish, he thought, she goes to a better life.”
The fennec is adorable and will no doubt incite a new trend in the exotic pet trade.
Characters are lovely and dimensional; filled with conflicting desires to honor their gods, live by a personal code, respect others’ culture and fulfill their own dreams. And… and… [major spoiler… the woman saves herself].
The writing was extremely satisfying, falling somewhere closer to Valente in the kind of detail that is full of visual imagery. Consider:
“Hiresha wore a defiance of purple.”
“The sky stream connected with other ribbons of water, all leading to a shimmering blue globe that floated above the center of the city.”
One of the few faults were an occasional jump in scene or a tendency to pick the purplish word over the commonplace, obscuring interpretation. For instance, at one point, “the spellsword yelled for him and bellowed.” Rather redundant. Or “For all she knew, they could be succeeding where she had failed by escaping into the desert.” Since Hiresha is not the one escaping into the desert, it struck me as awkwardly worded. There’s a few more instances like that that mostly caused confusion in action/scene jumps, so they stood out a little more than it would have otherwise.
A stylized eye often signals the next section and a character identity. I thought it was a nice visual.
The world seemed rather similar to Egyptian culture, with temples, mummies and polytheism, enabling the reader to quickly grasp the essentials and focus on the details. “After the local fashion, he had painted his eyes with the insignia of a god: two scorpion tails curved upward over his cheeks.” Marling adds a delightful magical twist with rivers running in midair, and the power of the gods to create floating temples. Hiresha’s skill is in creating magic-imbued jewels using dream imagery. The magical talents remind me a little of the ones in Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law, as they are based on Attraction and Lightening and so forth. It’s rather fun to have fantasy that takes magic in unconventional directions.
There is the whiff of an emotional romantic triangle, normally a scenario that lends itself to vigorous eyerolling, but I thought Marling handled it well. Although it somewhat reflects the classic good-boy versus bad-boy set-up, there’s enough dimensionality to all of the characters, and it is not a true primary storyline. It helps that Hiresha posits her dilemma in terms of responsibility, planning and the forbidden instead of angsty pining.
Overall, I recommend it. I think it would appeal to fans of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms as well as those who enjoy a female-centered adventure and an Egyptian like settings.