Friday, 8 November 2013

The Dragon Carnivale by Heidi Garrett

Publication date: 18th June 2013
Published by:  Half-Faerie Publishing
Genre: Fantasy (YA)

I previously reviewed Nandana's Mark (Book 1) and The Flower of Isbelline (Book 2) of the series The Queen of the Realm of Faerie. The Dragon Carnivale is the third instalment.

My synopsis
I am going to attempt a summary of the plot.  I hope I understood it correctly: I admire and enjoy books with a complicated plot but sometimes I lack the ability to comprehend them fully. 

Melia and her companions are dealing with the aftermath of the events that led to the unfortunate death of Elenda, the powerful Grey Faerie.  Fortunately, Plantine failed in her attempt to incarnate Umbra and Lord Goring is dead, but there is still the threat of a war between the Dark and Light*.  The light is represented by the Albiana, the flower faeries who are the rulers of the Realm of Faerie.  They have become corrupt and evil.  The Dark is represented by Sevondi, the Dragonwitch (who appears on the cover).  Sevondi is a Muannaye (of the Muannai who are faeries who look most like humans - they are the same size as humans and don't have wings).  Sevondi is considered the most suitable successor to Elenda, as ruler of the Stronghold of Calashai, and the Muannaye are able to influence the choice of who gets to rule.  They are excited by the prospect of one of their own as the new regent. Melia and her companions agree that this would be a favourable outcome so that she can lead the fight against the Albiana.  Sevondi is not content to be sovereign.  She has ambitions to be the one who incarnates Umbra.  Melia and her companions hatch a plan to prevent this from happening by bargaining with Sevondi, agreeing to help support her as ruler of the new stronghold and convince her that together they can win the war...

My Review:
The central plot of this series is without a doubt intricate and complex.  I really enjoyed Nandana's mark but I must admit I was somewhat confused about the incarnation of Umbra and its significance. As I mentioned above, I had difficulty understanding this one, too.  I am not really sure what The Dragon Carnivale is actually about, or it's significance to the series.  If I have understood correctly, Melia and her companions are dealing with 2 major threats.  The immediate threat being the incarnation of Umbra and the other being the looming threat of war within the Whole. It isn't clear to me how the incarnation ties in with the war - or if the two are linked at all.

I don't understand how the various key characters (and their back stories) connect with these threats.  Not that it isn't clarified, just that I couldn't understand it.  Here is an example: was impossible to study the dark master (Umbra) without grasping the history of the muannai.  They'd come into being simultaneously - an evolutionary response by the Whole to rapid population growth in the Mortal World.  Soul embers could no longer be absorbed and reformed in the Great White Sea; grey faeries were no longer born.  They were simply too many embers to cool and not enough time...
Now the mortal psyche - which had gained some conciousness but did not have the cohesion to survive death and pass into the Unknown beyond - split... I appreciate some context is required to understand this.  But even though I have read the entire book, I can't work out what it means.  Is it a clue to why the most humanoid of faeries  are the only ones unable to enter The Mortal World?  What is the significance?  Why can Sevondi conjure magical dragons and what does she use them for?  Are they merely for entertainment, or can she use them as a weapon?

It seemed to me that the first third of the book was about key characters trying to obtain something crucial from other key characters.  Melia needed to find Uncle Raffles to find out how to locate her half-faerie relatives in The Mortal World (so she can warn them about the threat Umbra poses), Ryder and Flora needed to convince Sevondi to part with the Book of Umbra (so that they can get the magic bowl and sword away from the Ruadain Mountains and to the Grey Council), Sevondi needed to get the bowl and sword from Flora and Ryder (in order to incarnate Umbra).  I understand that obtaining these things are crucial in order for the story to move forward.

My interest sparked when the story moved forward ie., when Melia and Tatou find themselve in the Mortal World.  That section read really well for me.  I liked the use of description - from the surroundings to the first mortal they encounter - hinting to the reader that they are not in the present but somewhere in the past.  Even the way that the mortal boy talks suggests he is from another era. The Ford car is the strongest clue that it's the early 1920s and it is only in the next chapter that this is confirmed.  I enjoyed the mystery and the thought process of working it out.  I also liked the scene with Gabriela, her shock at being able to see Tatou and her reaction.  The trip to The Mortal World was intriguing and a joy to read but, unfortunately, this only took up about 2 chapters of the book.  I think there was the potential to develop it further.  I wanted more.

Another really good section is when Ryder realises there is a way to transport the bowl and sword to the Grey Council.  Despite the risk to his life he gives it a try.  What happens during and after his attempt was cleverly written and I found it intriguing.  It's the only part of the novel that moves into dark territory - the horrible things that happen to Ryder are quite difficult to read - but once again this sub-plot was resolved too quickly and felt rushed, which is a pity and another missed opportunity for further development in my opinion.

It seemed to me that Melia (and her companions) had a mission: the prevention of the incarnation of Umbra.  Their efforts thus far has led to several deaths (including Melia's father).  So I was surprised when she bought so easily into the idea of incarnating Umbra herself, but I went along with it.  I was however, stunned when she became angry with Ryder for being consistent in his opposition of it.  And I could not see why this would lead her to the conclusion that Ryder is deceitful and untrustworthy.  It struck me as unreasonable and unjustified.  When she sees him with Sevondi, she jumps to the conclusion that he is there by choice; that he had been conspiring with her all along.  Melia is supposed to be in love with this boy (but not enough to even attempt to give him the benefit of the doubt), so it does not occur to her that he may be there under duress.  She ignores the visible bruises he has from having been severely beaten. I would have thought it would be the first thing she'd notice, and a major cause for concern. 

Umbra, who made his presence known in the previous books, is dormant for most of this one and I wondered why.  It later transpires that he has his eyes on a new vessel, Jade, Gabriela's granddaughter - which I think sets up the plot for the next book.  Melia will have to return to The Mortal World to find her.  And when she does I don't believe a simple warning will suffice.

I realise this is a rather inadequate review; did I like it or not? I hear you asking. It is not meant to put you off.  I did not enjoy this one as much as the 1st book but I liked it more than the second, despite finding it a challenge in parts.  Challenge is good; a good book gets us thinking and asking questions, in my view.  Also, I find a re-read can help to clarify things - as things missed the first time get picked up the next time - so it's definitely one for me to read again.  My advice is give the book a try and see what you think.

*There is a section where Flora explains to Melia how light isn't always good and dark isn't always bad.  In my opinion it is a beautiful piece of writing.

Writing a novel is hard work and it is clear that a lot of thought, hard work, and dedication has gone into this series. This should not go unrecognised. Nor should Heidi's talent as a writer.

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