Title: Brokedown Palace
Author: Steven Brust
Four brothers live in a crumbling Palace. When Miklós, the youngest, butts heads with his eldest brother László, he finds himself walking straight into myths. But though he journey all the way to Faerie, his heart and his destiny are with his home. Only Miklós seems willing to admit the Palace is rotting. Yet he has no idea what he’s supposed to do about it.
This was an odd book. I liked the way it balances between myth and fact, often muddling the two so much that it’s not clear where any lines ought to be drawn. The Palace is both itself and a symbol of many things, primarily the old, broken, and decaying. I liked the Palace, too. The little details about various things going wrong is almost comical in places, because the King is so determined to just keep on with his everyday life he can ignore gaping holes in the floor.
The complex relationships between the four brothers is also more of a literary bent. The story doesn’t follow events as much as the twists and turns of those relationships, as Miklós tries to escape László, then re-integrate into some kind of family (which is troublesome because he and his eldest brother have polar opposite views on some critical things, and both of them aren’t willing to give any ground). There are also two women, one that László takes as a whore and one he intends to wed, who are themselves set against each other as foils.
The problem for me is that all this literary stuff isn’t nearly as interesting as even my least favorite Vlad Taltos book. This book isn’t often funny, or full of action, and the nods to the wider world it shares with the Vlad books are either incidental or rather subtle (for instance, Brigitta’s end very obscurely ties to a familiar character, but it took out-of-book author confirmation to say for sure as the reference could have also referred to just about anything).
Overall, this will probably appeal more to those who like diving into complex family relationships and spotting various bits of symbolism. For myself, I don’t think I’m going to read it again, but I don’t mind having read it once. I rate this book Neutral.
Author: Catherine Fisher
Cal is running away. Away from his drunk mother, away from the responsibility of caring for her, away from the dead-end life that’s all she can offer. Then he finds the castle. And one night of mystery and mistakes will leave him uncertain where to draw the boundary between what’s real and what’s not. Is he going crazy like his mother? Or is there perhaps something more?
This is a layered book with a lot of facets. On one side, it’s a very good look at an ordinary young man who desperately wants to make it in the real world, and keeps falling headlong into surreal experiences that force him to question what “real world” he’s expecting to inhabit. Or from another angle, it’s a young man bitter and angry at his mother who wrestles his way through what her alcoholism has done to him and his relationship with her as a result.
I liked the way the magical stuff was always just enough out there that it’s easy to see why Cal wonders if he’s just going insane. But he can’t stop his involvement, and the hints of his destiny come in both the quotes heading up each chapter and the story itself. I also liked how Cal’s struggles were generally shown and not explained, like his obsession with keeping things neat and in order. He’s had to be so responsible for everything thanks to his mom that it bleeds out even in his rebellion.
The literary angle made what happens with his mom a bit predictable, although I was happy the book as a whole went for an uplifting ending. And that it didn’t cheap out on the magic being real. It’s still not provable in a way that would cause anyone to believe, but it’s there.
The only thing I didn’t care for as much was more a personal peeve. The story isn’t too hard on his mom, who has understandable reasons for drinking, though it certainly doesn’t shy away from showing the disastrous effects of her behavior. But she never takes responsibility for the bad, just apologizes for it. So yes, I do think she’s at fault for a lot of this, and she gets out of having to actually deal with that. So that was frustrating.
Overall this was a good read. The story works on a couple of levels, from a retelling of Percival’s quest to a modern kid struggling to get free of his mom’s horrible choices. I rate this book Recommended.