Holly Lisle – Hawkspar
Read my review of the predecessor novel, Talyn
Length: 480 pages
Started: 23 July 2008
Finished: 27 July 2008
Summary: The Ossalene Order, a group of female mystics, recruits its members by purchasing young girls as slaves, and subjecting them to punishments and torture beyond imagining until their former lives are erased, and they become ready to take the Eyes of the Order, eyes made of stone which will leave them blind, but give them immense magical powers. But one slave girl fights back, concocting a plan for rescue… which catches the attention of the Hawkspar Oracle, whose magic gives her the ability to see – and alter – the currents of time, both past and future. Instead of punishment, however, the Oracle recruits this girl into her own grander plan, because they – along with many of their fellow captives – are Tonk, a fiercely loyal and clannish people. However, escape is only the beginning of the plan, for the Tonk are in desperate danger as a people, unknowingly fighting a losing war against an unseen enemy. In order to save a people she barely remembers, the young girl must face great personal sacrifice and take the Hawkspar Eyes, because they are the Eyes of War, and only with them will she have the power to do what is needed…
Hawkspar is set in the same world as Talyn, about 15 years later, and both feature the Tonks as their protagonists. Hawkspar is fairly stand-alone; the events of Talyn that bear on the plot are recapped clearly, although not until a fair ways into the book. However, I think that while it could be read as a stand-alone, it probably shouldn’t – in part because Hawkspar is richer for already having a familiarity with the Tonks, their religion and culture, and their history, but also because Talyn is easily one of the top three books I’ve read this year, and anyone who is interested in reading Hawkspar would like its predecessor as well.
Review: The one thing that really stands out about Holly Lisle’s writing is how brutally, almost unrelentingly dark it can be. There are threads of lightness, and hope, and love that run throughout her books, to be sure, but for large sections, the things people in her novels do to each other are so dark and so bleak that it can be viscerally difficult to read, each chapter revealing a new horror like a punch in the stomach, all the worse because it is human-driven and not supernatural evil. And yet, because she does balance it with believable, honest, likeable characters who fight against the darkness to preserve what they can of life, honor, love, and loyalty, the raw brutality gives her stories and her writing a power that it would lack if the darkness she portrays was toned down. That power was evident throughout the entirety of her first novel, Talyn, and it’s present throughout the first half of Hawkspar as well. After that, I can’t put my finger on exactly what changed, but the storytelling loses some of its immediacy, some of its intimacy with the characters, and thereby a fair deal of its potency as well. Perhaps it’s because this book focuses largely on political maneuvering while Talyn was much more about one woman’s personal fight, but Hawkspar just didn’t have the same connection or make the same impact on me as the first one did. It was still an absorbing read, as witnessed by the fact that I spent most of the day unable to tear myself away from the last two hundred and fifty pages, but it does lose some steam halfway through. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I enjoyed this book, albeit not as much as I did Talyn, and if you’re looking for a totally different flavor of fantasy novel than the standard magical-quest hero fare, you could do a whole lot worse than Holly Lisle.
Links: Holly Lisle’s website
First Line: My jara came at me with a quick punch and sweep of her ban.