I keep intending to get Talk Story to Me up and running again. I’ve been reading so many great books, and there is so much to talk about! But thanks to the mighty Thor (my cat, not the Norse god of thunder), the tripod was destroyed. It was really quite impressive.
Ah, but I still have a camera, you might say. True. Or rather I did. However, Loki (another cat, not the Norse god of trickery) has confiscated it. I heard a strange clumping sound and looked up just in time to see Loki disappearing down the staircase with the camera in mouth. I started to pursue, but Maelona and Sophie (neither of whom are Norse or Celtic goddesses but simply cats) both tripped me at intervals. By the time I reached the bottom of the stairs (intact, blessedly), Loki and the camera had vanished. I have a checklist of all the possible places it might be. However, I have yet to find it….in time though.
I haven’t been idle though. I’ve been working on ways to improve my review system to make them more helpful. I don’t think that an actual number based system actually does much. Rather it’s the analysis on key points that can help readers determine whether a book is for them. So I have created some categories. Feel free to recommend any more if you like.
But that doesn’t mean I should refrain from reviewing the splendid books I have found. The first one I’m pleased to review is Beggar Magic by Heidi Lynn Burke or H.L. Burke as her name is displayed on the book. I am not friends with the author though I am in a writing group with her. I bought this book on my own because it looked intriguing.
And appearances were proved correct. The cover of Beggar Magic suggests a story of two key individuals, music, mystery, and fantasy elements. It delivered on all that with a fairly creative premise. In Geila City, the primary location for this story, magic isn’t just figuratively musical, it is literally musical. It exists throughout the world and allows for a variety of uses, being known simply as the Strains. A quasi caste system exists with the nobility being capable of using the Strains in more powerful and creative ways and the Common folk having to make do.
The story follows the adventures of Leilani, a Common, and a Highmost girl named Zebedy. The two come from different worlds, and, in a subtle “grass is greener on the other side,” both envy the other. While Zebedy shows great potential with her use of the Strains as well as imagination, Leilani is strong and independent. Their friendship isn’t supposed to last, but it grows as time passes. At last, Zebedy goes on to further her strength and education, and she invites Leilani to come and essentially be her assistant, which is a great honor. From there, mysteries develop, both as the two young women learn how to function within this system and as blank spots where the Strains do not exist crop up.
I’ll talk about this more in plot, but this book has a very gentle and slow pace. The world building reflects that. It focuses in on the more minute areas of this world, and it also shows on a more intimate level how much the Strains influence the world. Even those who cannot use the highborn magic still rely on the Strains. In fact, not being able to hear or sense the Strains is horrifying for those who are used to them. Only a few types of individuals are unable to hear them, and many are looked on with suspicion. For instance, anyone who kills is forever cut off from the Strains.
The rest of the world itself is fairly typical low fantasy stock. It has a calm pastoral feel with a combination of more formal school manors and a higher education system as well as a mystery. It has enough of a familiar feel to let the reader feel comfortable in exploring the new concepts without being overwhelmed. As such, the book is great for those who want something with fantasy but don’t have to learn an entirely new language or culture that goes with it. But the uniqueness of the Strains and their interaction in the world should also satisfy those who want something new and intriguing in the fantasy realm. All in all, a well struck balance that is hard to achieve.
The characters are just who you would expect in this sort of story with a few twists. Leilani is outspoken and independent, the strong willed commoner who has to learn how to keep her tongue in check. Not much scares her. Zebedy is, as is often the case, the more privileged and shielded noble who doesn’t really understand all that the world is about. And then there is the inevitable villain and possible love interest. When these characters enter the scene, you may recognize them at once, but I won’t reveal their names just in case.
One character who struck me as particularly interesting was Brick. I haven’t run into many stories that tell the story of a character with disabilities in a way that lets the character be himself. It takes a certain skill. Even though Brick reaches his initial conclusions quite swiftly when he is otherwise more deliberate, he is one of my favorites. He complements the other characters well, and he has some of the best secrets.
Oh, the glorious plot. As I mentioned above, the pacing is actually rather slow, but don’t mistake slow for boring. The beginning reminded me of some of my favorite stories as a child, the gentle introduction to a new world that lets you experience it. I don’t think I’m giving away too much to reveal that this is how Leilani and Zebedy meet. They are both quite young, one is lost, and the other finds her and helps her to her home in what results in a quiet tour of the countryside. After that, things pick up.
There really weren’t a lot of surprises for me in the book, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I attribute a lot of this to the narrative. It’s an exciting book that doesn’t leave you desperate to know where the plot goes. But whenever I set it down, I wanted to come back and find out the next twist.
The twists themselves are handled quite well. One minor point for criticism is that, in the end, a couple things may seem too convenient. The discovery of one relationship and the fulfillment of one of the character’s dreams as well as a healing could be seen as too saccharine.
And at first, I thought this fell into the all too common trap of “yay, everything is well and good! There’s nothing bad in the world.” And while the one discovery is rather convenient, these developments aren’t undeserved. The worldbuilding and the clues themselves are sufficient to point to this being a conclusion. I wonder if I would have liked these two twists more if the story had been darker at points, but, in fairness to the author, these moments are earned and well told.
This was H.L. Burke’s first book for me. And, as I am also preparing to review Land of Ash, I can say that I quite love this author’s voice. It’s very gentle. Almost poetic without becoming purple prose. There’s a great deal of creativity, and you can see the love and care that went into crafting this story and world. This book really is its own creature, and it’s well worth the trip.
Would I Read Again? Would I Recommend?
Yes, I would certainly read this book again. Actually I already had to take another read. It’s a sweet and pleasant story. Easy to get into and easy to relax while reading. The world building was intriguing, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Currently it is available for free on Amazon from August 2 – August 3. But if you can purchase a copy for full price, I’d encourage you to do so. H.L. Burke is precisely the kind of writer I want to encourage to keep writing with my sales. Check it out here.