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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Brokedown Palace: A Tale from the East

***** Brokedown Palace: A Tale from the East by Steven Brust. Fantasy.

According to Brust's website (link above), this is "Your basic combination of Hungarian Folktales and Grateful Dead song lyrics." Of course. Doesn't everyone write one of those eventually?

This is Brust's fourth novel, set in the same universe as the Vlad Taltos books and the Khaavren romances, though, as the title states, it's from "the East." And it's in yet a third style of writing (or, rather, it's the second style, since the Khaavren Dumas homage hadn't yet been written).

It's a fairy tale, about Change. Prince Miklos left home after an argument with his brother, King Laszlo, and with the help of the Taltos horse Bolc (who talks, and would only take him near Faerie) went into the Mountains of Faerie, where he absorbed and developed some of its power.

He returns home to find a tree growing in his bedroom in the palace, and the palace crumbling. Laszlo takes any mention of the palace's decay personally, and refuses to discuss it, while Miklos is determined to save the palace even if it means destroying it.

There's more going on--Laszlo agrees to a bride if he can keep his new mistress. Prince Andor is looking for a purpose and is simultaneously very suggestible and very headstrong. Prince Vilmos, the giant, is mostly concerned about his pet Norska. There's a dragon in the west, and enemies may be attacking in the north. Victor, the captain of the guard, is plotting to overthrow the throne; and Sandor, the kingdom's wizard is mostly concerned with keeping his own position. The Demon Goddess has warned Laszlo about Miklos and about the tree growing in his room.

The story is interspersed with folk tales (apparently that mix of Hungarian folk tales and Grateful Dead songs--I suppose I should eventually listen to the Grateful Dead--I never have, so I missed that connection. It didn't seem to keep me from enjoying the book, but it's a cultural icon I'm not familiar with.) and asides about the growing tree.

One Amazon reviewer suggested the book was written as though it were meant to be read aloud, and that makes sense. The style is very much that of a fairy tale you'd read aloud.

Engaging as the story is, with its complex and emotional family relationships, it's almost... superfluous. Or maybe transparent, rather. The real story is about change, and how sometimes you have to destroy something to save it. It's very easy, despite the fantasy setting, to superimpose a more personal change onto the story.

I'm not sure I'm explaining this well. Maybe I'm saying the message transcends the story? Or that the story is full of universal truths?

Actually, I think I'm saying it's a fairy tale--because that's what fairy tales do--at least the classic ones. They illustrate universal truths in an accessible way. And I think that's what Brokedown Palace does.

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Fascinating. I just got half a dozen books in the mail from ordering online...I am so excited to get into them. I got married in Vegas two weeks ago and since then have been re-vamping and cleaning the apartment trying to sort it out and put stuff into storage...I am looking forward to getting settled in and reading soon! I got Edgar Sawtelle, a non-fiction book about the banning of Grapes of Wrath called Obscene in the Extreme...and a couple of other books.

Hmm. This sounds like a book I'd like. I'm adding it to my list.
I love Brust. I'll have to track this down.
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