I was so excited when my request was approved, I've been dying to read this book! It's not even the cover (though it's amazing, look at it!), it's the description: a Celtic inspired kingdom, barbed roots attacking woodsmen, a girl (yay!) on a quest!
And, to be fair, there were many things I admired about this book, but they weren't enough to outweigh the sheer determination it took to get through it.
First what didn't work for me:
This is a fairy tale like story in an alternate Irish setting, but where was the world building? You can tell from the very first page that the book aspires to be high fantasy, but high fantasy takes a very solid grounding, a very definitive feel of the world in the reader's mind so all the fantastical things can then be accepted.
We know very little of Lia's village, the writing isn't descriptive enough - in most genres I like this, I prefer snappy dialogue that jumps off the page to perfect renderings of the setting. But this is fantasy. It really needs to be descriptive. I'm not saying you need to go all-out Tolkien style about how green the leaves are or whatever. But you definitely need to give the reader more than what was given in this book. I was so frustrated with this when it came to Brune!
The character development was lacking. We start with Lia and we know very little about her life, only that the villagers distrust her because... because she is interested in herbal remedies? I mean what else were these people meant to have been using, even the doctor entrusted his patients to Lia's Granda when it came to medication. So we were off to a shaky start where there is conflict and the main character is something of a social outcast just because.
Lia was somewhat more developed as the book progressed, mainly through her interactions with her grandma's grimoire. The rest of the characters lacked development and barely felt real to me.
The plot and pacing, it took turns - sometimes it seemed too convoluted, others conveniently easy, but always off. The pacing did not work for me at all.
What worked for me:
One extremely awesome thing about this book: Ogham. I don't know how familiar most readers are with the Ogham alphabet (also known as the Celtic Tree Alphabet), but it's really, really worth checking out. The Ogham alphabet was used in primitive Irish and it's awesome because each letter's name means a tree or herb. I think it was an absolute stroke of brilliance from the author to have beth bark (birch bark) at the beginning of the quest, when Beith (birch tree) is the first letter of Ogham. The whole plot is a trip through the Ogham alphabet, ending with yew (the last letter). If Mercer ever reads this review here's my chance to say: "That was absolutely brilliant, and one of the most awesome things I've seen in recent YA fantasy books!"
The concept was amazing. Really, a spirited heroine, a quest, creepy barbed roots, mysterious enchanted places, magical creatures, a Celtic setting, a Grimoire!
This book has been getting very positive reviews but, as I said, to me it was a struggle to get through. My mind just kept wandering, the story couldn't catch my interest.
So maybe it's just me, and you guys should give it a chance!