Book review - Tallow by Karen Brooks
Tallow is one of the more intricate & unusual fantasy novels I've read & reviewed, because it doesn't quite fit within the normal parameters of fantasy. Set in a Renaissance city that bears an uncanny resemblance to Venice, Tallow depicts the lives, events & people that populate this city. When a young child is thrown by a dying horse rider to the candle maker Pillar, he feels compelled to take the child, and raise it as though it were his own. But the child, whom he names Tallow, is far more than he suspects, and is in fact an Estrattore, who can extract essences from people & things, and then manipulate them magically. Pillar & his mother raise Tallow, training her in the art of candle making, disguising her as a boy, and trying to keep her hidden from those looking for any Estrattore left in the world. But there are real & vicious dangers in the world, ranging from the Church, fallen aristocrats seeking to raise themselves, an exotic foreign queen, to the creatures known as the Morte Whisperers. Not to mention the Bond Riders, the mysterious horsemen who dwell behind the Veil, who are watching & waiting for her to grow sufficiently that they can use her skills to save themselves, regardless of the cost to Tallow.....
As Tallow grows older & learns, she starts using her talents in her crafting of candles, growing ever more skilful with time. But her creations don't always work as she plans, and people don't always do as we expect. An unusual book, in that the author has managed to avoid the standard fantasy storyline, and has created a world that feels real and chaotic, with inhabitants both human & otherwise. Tallow's life & quest to learn are beautifully described, in a way that makes you able to smell in your head the stench of the canals, hear the cries of the street vendors and see the bustling streets, filled with people going about their daily lives. Brooks has also managed to avoid the clichéd use good guys & villains, by making all the characters human, with all the flaws & failings implicit. The author has also told a story that is real, with mistakes & screw-ups, yet still engrossing, without falling into the trap of creating a predictable saga, or writing in such a way as you can guess the next stages. I found it fascinating to see how frustrated I was when I was reading this book to try to predict the next events, and failing nearly every time. The first book of a gripping new series, and definitely one to follow up on.
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