Book Review: “Tallow” by Karen Brooks #aww2016

Title: Tallow (Curse of the Bond Riders #1)
Author: Karen Brooks
Genre: YA/Historical fantasy
Audio book narrator: Eloise Oxer
Date Read: 07/08/2016 – 16/08/2016
Rating: ★★★


tallowcoverWhile this book definitely felt like a series opener, and a set-up for bigger things to come later, the setting and characterisation were both fresh and original and drew me in completely.

Tallow has grown up as a candle maker’s apprentice in Serenissima, a place we now know as Venice. Her strange eyes have always bothered people, but it’s not until a stranger shows up at their door that she learns she is one of the last Estrattore, a race able to extract and distill the feelings of those around them, and who were exiled and killed by the Church hundreds of years before. Under  Katina’s tutelage, she begins to learn how to control her power, but she soon also learns that even using her powers for what she perceives to be good can have dire consequences.

The world-building is definitely the highlight of this book, and the books that follow. It is rich and sensual and makes the reader feel like they are really there, too. The descriptions of the various regions of Serenissima, the canals, Carnivale, etc, were all vivid. Italian language is peppered throughout the story, which also served to remind us where we were.

Tallow is a well-constructed character. She is eager to please, eager to help and horrified by the attention she begins receiving when people start attributing certain things to her (“his” – she is disguised as a boy for the majority of the book) candles. Her guardians, Pillar, the candle-maker, and his mother, Quinn, are also very thoroughly characterised, though I never especially warmed to any of them. Katina is really the only Bond Rider we meet in this book, and she makes a very good mentor for Tallow, and her world-weariness comes across well, too.

There is a bit of romance in the novel, and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I usually do in YA books. I think this is because it is actually realistic – Tallow and Dante meet by chance, and there is no “I laid eyes on him and immediately knew he was the One/special/whatever else”. Instead, they continue to spend time together and slowly fall in love, though neither acts on it until right at the end, because Tallow is worried about revealing her powers to Dante, and Dante thinks Tallow is a boy.

There are also several subplots, including one with some Venetian nobles who go on to play a larger part later on in the series, and also with a queen of Farrow Fair (somewhere in Albion; on the audio book, she’s read with a French accent so I’m not exactly sure where she’s supposed to be from), who is also on the lookout for an Estrattore. The problem was, these characters were visited so infrequently that I tended to forget their side plots even existed when I wasn’t following them. They also made the book a lot more drawn out than it needed to be, especially as they were both being set up to play larger parts in the later books, rather than actively having much of an effect on the events of this book.

In spite of all that, the world and main characters did win me over and I had the next book downloaded before I had even reached the ending of this one.

(This review is part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016. Click here for more information).

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