The Boy With the Porcelain Blade, by Den Patrick [Erebus Sequence #1]

Title: The Boy With the Porcelain Blade (Erebus Sequence #1)
Author: Den Patrick
Publisher: Gollancz
Publication date: March 201th 2014
Rating: ★.5

19106050Sometimes when I review a book, I’ve already entered a tentative suggestion for the rating in my Goodreads, since that’s how I track my reading and I’m meticulous about recording everything—and sometimes, that rating will ultimately change, depending on how the review turns out. This is one of those reviews. The Boy With the Porcelain Blade started out life rating a disappointed two on Goodreads, with the possibility of remaining thus, or being entered here with a half star docked, making it a one-and-a-half star review in the end.

I’d been looking forwards to this book, desperate to read it following the fuss and hype and the synopsis, which hooked me and attempted to draw me in almost immediately. I’m big on Italian-esque settings because a) I love moving away from Britain when stories take place in Europe and b) one of my own brain babies is very Italian-esque, so I expected that reading The Boy With the Porcelain Blade would prove to be a twofold pleasure.

It was not.

Usually I’d sum up the synopsis, the setting, the story etc, in my own words, but here… I’m not sure it would amount to more than a sentence. So in the interests of fair play, I’ll simply copy the book cover copy here instead…

An ornate yet dark fantasy, with echoes of Mervyn Peake, Robin Hobb and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. An original and beautifully imagined world, populated by unforgettable characters.

Lucien de Fontein has grown up different. One of the mysterious and misshapen Orfano who appear around the Kingdom of Landfall, he is a talented fighter yet constantly lonely, tormented by his deformity, and well aware that he is a mere pawn in a political game. Ruled by an insane King and the venomous Majordomo, it is a world where corruption and decay are deeply rooted – but to a degree Lucien never dreams possible when he first discovers the plight of the ‘insane’ women kept in the haunting Sanatoria.

Told in a continuous narrative interspersed with flashbacks we see Lucien grow up under the care of his tutors. We watch him forced through rigorous Testings, and fall in love, set against his yearning to discover where he comes from, and how his fate is tied to that of every one of the deformed Orfano in the Kingdom, and of the eerie Sanatoria itself.

Ugh. It’s difficult to know where to start with a book that I felt distanced me so much, just by being. Suffice it to say, this book wasn’t what I was expecting; difficult, really, since I wasn’t expecting anything in particular. Regardless, I didn’t get it. I found The Boy With the Porcelain Blade a confusing, difficult book with little offered in return: pale characters with personalities that might be strong, but seem to be lost in whatever vast tapestry Patrick sought to weave.

The prose is ornate and elaborate, as promised, but it is ultimately remote and serves only to distance the reader from whatever is happening in Demesne. It is theatrical, play-esque in formation, albeit it with a jumbled timeline that serves not to heighten intrigue or tension,  but as yet another complication that appears to bar access to the deeper heart of what its author clearly imagined.

I found it vague and distant and ultimately closed as far as YA goes (and if it’s not YA with a primarily teenage cast, what is it?). I wanted something gorgeous and intriguing—this fell woefully short. I won’t say it was boring as such, but it wasn’t far short. Nothing seemed to happen and when it did, it felt either wrapped in overdone mystique or shrouded in so much half-telling and awkward prose that nothing was clear in spite of itself and its best efforts at what was clearly supposed to be a rich and politically intriguing story.

At first I was intrigued and interested, by both the pace and the disjointed timeline, but soon the prose felt like a constant copy of itself and I grew tired and bored with the same descriptions (or at least what felt like the same) time and time again—and instead of the timeline being intriguing to piece together, I felt that it was too disjointed, too unclear and far too lacklustre a plot to warrant such gymnastics.

As to whether I’ll continue reading on, that remains to be seen. I’m a sucker for a complete story and to date there’s been only one trilogy/series I’ve jumped ship on. I expect I will read the second book, if only for curiosity’s sake; and the impression that it simply has to be more enjoyable than this rather meh first outing.

The characters were original and the ideas behind them sound and interesting, definitely enough to keep me reading to see where everything goes, but let’s just say it won’t be making any anticipated lists. It was a quick enough read in theory, but it took me just under a month to grind through, due to my total alienation from the story, the prose and the protagonist. I didn’t find Lucien likeable, or dislikeable. As with the rest of the story, I found him simply meh. I hate being indifferent to books, but I don’t think I can consider myself anything else.

It was a nice enough idea; a nice enough attempt at what I feel it ultimately failed at. “Nice”. Sometimes that feels more insulting than saying it was terrible… and makes me feel worse than if I was slating this baby from here to Tibet. It did not work for me, didn’t engage or interest me and by rights, I shouldn’t really bother with the next one.

But, it’s not a standalone—so I will. Sorry, but this just wasn’t for me. The problem is, aside from the slightly repetitive reasons stated throughout, I’m not sure I’d be able to tell you why. Just, no.

Sorry…!

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