Backlist Review: The Traitor's Daughter by Paula Brandon

Friday, June 12, 2015
Author: Paula Brandon
Genre: fantasy
Series: The Veiled Isles #1
Pages: 415 (print ARC edition(
Published: October 2011
Source: from publisher via GoodReads FirsReads
Rating: 3.75/5

Here’s the beginning of a lush, epic, wholly original new trilogy that shines with magic, mystery, and captivating drama.
On the Veiled Isles, ominous signs are apparent to those with the talent to read them. The polarity of magic is wavering at its source, heralding a vast upheaval poised to alter the very balance of nature. Blissfully unaware of the cataclysmic events to come, Jianna Belandor, the beautiful, privileged daughter of a powerful Faerlonnish overlord, has only one concern: the journey to meet her prospective husband.  But revolution is stirring as her own conquered people rise up against their oppressors, and Jianna is kidnapped and held captive at a rebel stronghold, insurance against what are perceived as her father’s crimes.

The resistance movement opens Jianna’s eyes―and her heart. Despite her belief in her father’s innocence, she is fascinated by the bold and charming nomadic physician and rebel sympathizer, Falaste Rione—who offers Jianna her only sanctuary in a cold and calculating web of intrigue. As plague and chaos grip the land, Jianna is pushed to the limits of her courage and resourcefulness, while virulent enemies discover that alliance is their only hope to save the human race.

What to do, what to do? First of all, I have to admit I've had this ARC for months - I won it in the First Reads program in 2011 - and just haven't gotten around to reading it. My bad GoodReads, you were right - this is a book for me, even if I'm not quite sure what to do with it. I'm torn about a lot of this fantasy novel - so much so that I couldn't even decide what range of rating I want to assign The Traitor's Daughter for a while after finishing - there's a lot to take in over the 415-page length. 

Pro: excellent, fully original, alien, complex and layered worldbuilding.
Con: very stilted dialogue, constantly weighed down with exposition or repetition
Pro: strong, spirited, conflicted heroine (Jianna)
Con: remote characterization, slightly stereotypical in voice/personality
Pro: a unique and fresh idea as a 'source' (ha) for magic/ the "arcane ability"
Con: the slow-moving first hundred pages before the plot fully kicks in, starting with the three-chapters long introductory infodump
Pro: a greyly moral/complicated character in Aurest Belandor (his "kneeser" ways as opposed to his love and devotion to his daughter)
Con: the overlong and very-articulated abuse of a main, though thoroughly repellant, character
Pro: Overarching themes and unresolved plotlines that lead naturally to the next book (The Ruined City) without overextending the plot of book one
Con: certain aspects of the 'arcane art' can come off as terribly convenient (the "Distant Exchange" and so on)
Pro: it's a fantasy, but the love interest isn't the prince/Magnifico, and nor is the "romance" any sort of focus for the heroine <SPOILER>He's got brains! He's a doctor! </END>

All in all, for a debut novel in a high/dark fantasy series, The Traitor's Daughter is uneven but highly imaginative. Without a doubt I have to credit the author for the scope and breadth of the worldbuilding of this book - it truly is the most impressive aspect of the entire novel. The writing is serviceable, if exposition-heavy but it is the thinly-Italian-influenced history (warring island city-states with languages overly fond of vowels, and the letter "z", the titles of "Magnifico/Magnifica" as form of address to nobility) of the Veiled Isles that intrigued me the most. Author Paula Brandon has a wide an creative vision for her strange land of men and "quasi-men" to inhabit, and once the ball gets rolling, it's fun to join her there. It does take a while, but the payout is rewarding through the twists and turns of Jianna's story,

Don't dismiss this as a mere "romantic fantasy" because that's not at all what this novel is about. This isn't a novel afraid to get dark, gritty and murdery. Though some of the advertising blurbs out there for this advertise "the walking dead" as a selling point, and they do play some (small) part in the events of The Traitor's Daughter, the main horror of the book are the torture scenes. This is a dark fantasy - there's the practical slavery of a "lesser" species, rape is hardly worth mentioning, women are required to be subservient, several characters die or are murdered, others are tortured as a matter of course. Jianna is a serviceable main character and the third person omniscient POV probably does her a substantial bit of favor - she comes of as spoiled and ignorant (the whole city hates her dad and she has no clue? Despite 18 years of living there, and according to Nalio, wandering around town unattended?) - bu it would've been much worse to her impression had it been first person. To her credit, Jianna does gain a tiny shred of perspective through her interactions with Dr. Rione, but there's yards more to go.

I was surprised and impressed by the antagonist of the book - Yvenza. She uses her brain rather than force of arms to maneuver Jianna riiight where she wants her; it's formidable, especially in direct view of how her opponent operates. She's cold, calculating, intelligent and resourceful. I've said it before and it still holds true, a compelling and smart villain is miles better than a obvious and overdone stereotype. If I liked The Traitor's Daughter in spite of its deficiencies and flaws, the same could also be said for my opinion on the Dowager Magnifica. For all her hatred and cunning, she's at least reasoned out in her motivation, understandable at her desire to set right what has been taken from her. If her methods are harsh and cruel, so too is the world that turned on her and the man that did it. Her sons are bit more trope-ish and stereotypical - I didn't feel even a hint of individual presence from Trecchio and Ontartino was pure, unadulterated malevolence without his mother's cool intelligence to balance out his brutishness. Rione, too, for much of the novel is a bit blandly perfect  though he branches out against his patron eventually. Besides the delightfully flawed Aurest and Yvenza, the cast is in much need of individual attention.

I found myself very surprisingly wrapped up in the events of The Traitor's Daughter; several varying theories about the Inhabitants, the sequel and more abound in my head and prove that the good outweighs the bad for this one. I'll be continuing with the Veiled Isles trilogy and can't wait to see what Paula Brandon thinks up next for her sophomore fantasy effort.

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