The Misted Cliffs
Catherine Asaro’s new romantic fantasy novel, The Misted Cliffs, is the sequel to The Charmed Sphere, a book I haven’t read. It opens with a somewhat confusing mass of exposition about the political situation between three kingdoms. I will attempt to summarize.
The three kingdoms are Aronsdale, Harsdown, and the Misted Cliffs. Varquelle Escar was once the king of Harsdown. His wife, Dancer, was the daughter and only child of the king of the Misted Cliffs. Eighteen years ago, Varquelle made war on Aronsdale, and lost. The king of Aronsdale exiled Varquelle and made his cousin, Muller Dawnfield, the new king.
Varquelle’s son, Cobalt Escar, was raised by his mother, Dancer, and grandfather, the king of the Misted Cliffs. Muller Dawnfield has a daughter, Melody Dawnfield. Cobalt and Melody are the hero and heroine of this book. Cobalt attacks the fortress where Varquelle is being kept, freeing him from captivity. He and Varquelle plan to attack Harsdown and reclaim its throne, with the help of the Misted Cliffs army. But the war would be long and bloody, and the outcome is uncertain. Cobalt proposes, instead, to marry Melody, princess of Harsdown. Their child would someday inherit both Harsdown (from Melody) and the Misted Cliffs (from Cobalt).
Melody has always lived in peace and happiness in her loving family. Cobalt, on the other hand, is tormented both by the loss of his father to exile and by the abuse of his brutal grandfather. Cobalt is a huge, terrifying warrior, subject to violent rages, and Mel is horrified at the prospect of marrying him. She agrees in order to save her kingdom from war, and with him she travels to a beautiful but lonely and forbidding fortress in the Misted Cliffs. She gradually comes to understand and to love her silent, menacing husband. But he is bent upon a career of warfare, and nothing she says can change his mind.
Asaro’s fantasy is entertaining and easy to read. Description of this world’s magic is quite interesting and well thought out, and I enjoyed that aspect of the story very much. I was especially intrigued by the way magic is used in battle. I would have liked to learn more about the history of this complex world.
However, as I sit and write this review, more and more negative things come to mind. These things didn’t totally ruin the book for me, but I can’t help but notice that I have a lot more criticisms than I do praises. While The Misted Cliffs is a fast read, it’s barely an average one.
The biggest problem is Cobalt. He longs for the approval of his father. He hates and fears his grandfather, who raised him very harshly, but he also yearns to earn the old man’s respect. Almost everything he does, almost every thought he thinks, is motivated by his feelings for his father and grandfather. Which would be fine, if he were 16 years old. I could accept it if he were 24. But he’s 33, and honestly, I wanted him to grow up. Everyone is profoundly affected by the experiences of their childhood, good and bad – but by the time a man reaches the age of 33, he should have gained a bit of perspective. Cobalt, at 33, should have learned that he is independent from his father’s and grandfather’s opinions. He should have come to some kind of peace with himself. But he hasn’t. Cobalt leads armies to war and conquers two countries, resulting in the needless deaths of numberless soldiers, for no reason whatsoever except to win the good opinion of his father and grandfather.
Mel passionately attempts to keep Cobalt from making war, but it’s obvious that the esteem of Cobalt’s warlike father is more important to him than that of his wife. I’m not even sure he realizes that his actions have an effect on people other than his father and grandfather. I thought he was horrifyingly immature and couldn’t imagine being married to such a creature. The author attempts to soften him with teensy flashes of humor, and he is tender and gentle with Mel. Mostly, though, she wants us to forgive him because of his painful past. It didn’t work for me; I want a hero I can respect, not just pity.
Mel is better – too much better. She is, in fact, perfect in every way. She is so beautiful that people literally do double-takes when they see her, but she’s not aware of her beauty. She’s also an excellent rider, an accomplished swordswoman, and a powerful mage. She is insightful, brave, loving, and true. I found her unbelievable.
The book has a somewhat shallow feel. The foreshadowing is painfully obvious. The good people are generally Good with a capital G, and the bad ones are Evil. Aside from Cobalt, the one other character who seems most complicated – Varquelle – is not someone we ever really get to know. Sometimes the behavior of the characters seems calculated to create drama, rather than springing naturally from their backgrounds. For instance, even granting his cold and harsh upbringing, Cobalt seems bizarrely ignorant of marriage customs; he doesn’t bring a ring or other token to his wedding to Mel, leading to an awkward moment during the ceremony. But why (at age 33!) wouldn’t he have known to bring a ring? Even if he didn’t, why didn’t one of his parents tell him?
In fact, a lot of things about this book felt calculated to me. The emotional climax, when Cobalt realizes how much Mel means to him, is so inflated with melodrama that I felt a bit manipulated.
Catherine Asaro is a talented and highly respected author. I read one of her Science Fiction books, Primary Inversion, which I enjoyed for its complexity and surprising plot. It couldn’t have been more different from The Misted Cliffs. I’m not sure what is going on with this book, but while it’s quick and entertaining, it’s unsatisfying on several levels.
|Review Date:||June 4, 2005|