The Art of Forgetting: Rider, by Joanne Hall [The Art of Forgetting #1]

Title: The Art of Forgetting: Rider 
(The Art of Forgetting Book #1)
Author: Joanne Hall
Publisher: Kristell Ink
Publication date: 30th June 2013
Rating: 

17364583The Art of Forgetting: Rider is the first part of a new epic fantasy, a coming-of-age story that manages to splice all the expectations of its roots in classic fantasy, with the new and fresher ideas of modern fantasy. It tells the story of Rhodri, who never forgets anything, only he cannot remember certain aspects of his childhood. Found wandering in the woods surrounding a middle-of-nowhere town, Rhodri has few ideas as to who his real parents are or were.

All he knows is that his father loved him, promised he would return for him, and that he was totally devoted to his mother. His old man had a temper—sure—but it was never expressed against Rhodri. He recalls everything of his childhood up until a certain age, until a blank swallows up what was there and leaves him wondering just what happened to separate him from his former life.

Desperate to be away from his difficult parents who sometimes barely tolerate him, thinking him fae thanks to his unusual memory, Rhodri is suddenly enamoured with horses, riding and the idea of joining the King’s cavalry after the King’s Third passes through his small town. Defended from a beating by the Captain of the Third, Garrod, Rhodri pleads to be accepted into the cadets despite being a little younger than regulation. His pleads do not fall on deaf ears and before he knows it, he is riding towards the city of Northpoint and his life in the country is far behind him, soon to be filed neatly away into memory along with everything else in his life. Rhodri readies himself for a better existence in a sophisticated city, with new friends and a bright future.

Reality is somewhat different to what Rhodri was expecting: life is hard as a cadet, between the constant drilling, bullying and horseplay, and the tension-filled city with the strangely deserted at the end of the purposefully-broken causeway, and soon Rhodri learns that there is just no easy way to get through life in the military, other than to suck it up.

Time passes and as Rhodri grows, he develops spectacularly on the page, along with the rest of the cadets in the Third. Hall’s writing and crafting of character is exceptionally real and emotive: she certainly knows how to build a character on the page and bring them to life. Nobody falls flat—even the bullying is realistic, never mind the growing tension and hormonal urges befitting a barracks of teenage boys.

Hail and praise for a bisexual protagonist who actually does the dirty with both men and women—and never chooses a side. The natural assumption that bisexuality either fades with time or habit, or is a stalling notion whilst someone makes their mind up, is absurd and not lost on Hall. She writes Rhodri as a faithfully bisexual character and it is one of the first elements of the book that really caught my attention and impressed me. That’s not saying that the story wasn’t exciting enough, but it did take time to get going. Having not read a coming-of-age story in some time, I was confused by the initial narrative as being that of a young teen, only then to witness Rhodri’s growth into a young man. I’m fine with this, only it’s been a while since I’ve seen a character develop so.

I enjoyed this book after the first twenty percent, which I found really dragged its heels in regards to getting started. However, at some point the plot seemed to meet up with the pace and the story trotted along merrily at a decent and enjoyable speed: it became just the right mixture of slice-of-life boys-in-barracks cut with the necessary and expected action of such, including military schooling and shenanigans, patrolling and development of relationships, and with just enough page-time dedicated to sowing the seeds of Rhodri’s past, making both the reader and character wonder along at the same time.

I think more of the book should have been dedicated to Rhodri’s identity, because upon reflection, it seemed so little happened in the book, barring the fact that Rhodri and the other boys grew up, trained and had sex. There didn’t seem to be much of a developed world or fleshed-out past holding up the current foundations. We are told elements of what is, what has been and towards the end, where the plot is going, but none of it seemed very organic. Is this an epic fantasy, a military fantasy, or a quest for self-discovery? All of the above, it seems, but all approached in the wrong order and given in awkward measurements that only impede the overall pace and interest of the book. Compelling, this book was not—not especially. Yes, I wanted to read more, but then I tend to finish books regardless, plodding towards the end no matter what. More should have happened, more should have been developed and made clear and the world should have been somehow more imminent and present in Rhodri’s life. It wasn’t. For a military-ish fantasy, this read very much so like a true slice-of-life. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, but it didn’t seem that slice-of-life is where this book’s heart really lay.

It wanted to be something more. I expect in the next book that it will choose a direction and really gallop off that way, but that doesn’t really change the vaguely ho-hum sense of sitting around and twiddling my thumbs throughout The Art of Forgetting, whilst waiting for something to happen.

3-star copyThis book was kindly given to be by review by the author herself—something I am grateful for—in exchange for my honest review. So, here we go. I want to linger very little over this initial point, but: I docked stars from this book for reasons. I won’t go into detail (not here, not now); it feels unprofessional. So, suffice it to say that I did enjoy the pants off of this book in the end, but, just like wages and a sailor behaving badly at port, I had to dock its score. By how much? I’m…not sure. I’m very liberal with my stars, so maybe it would have received the full five, maybe not. Regardless: here we have a three-star review that was so very almost a 2.75 rating—and sometimes is depending on my mood. We’ll round it to an even three for argument’s sake.

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