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The Ill-Made Mute (book 1 of the Bitterbynde) by Cecilia Dart-Thornton

Review by Caleyna

As a female fantasy reader, I mainly enjoy books by female fantasy authors. If a book has a female name or picture on the cover, it is almost a surety that I will buy it. Thus it is no surprise that I finally got around to reading The Ill-Made Mute. It has recieved high praise, being called "one of the great fantasies." The blurbs alone were enough to convince me I was realy going to love the book. Who wouldn't love something "netted in golden prose" that's "inventive, fascinating, affecting, and profoundly satisfying"? Apparently not me.

I have a theory about the high praise this book received. The author's vocabulary is almost out of control. She uses lots and lots of big words and I think the reviewers are scared to say anything bad about the book because people will think they don't understand big words. The sad thing is I do understand big words and I often found the use of them to be wrong in this book.

Let's get to the crux of the matter. Dart-Thorton has created a very rich fantasy world (though it is mostly stolen from old folk tales) but she hasn't created a very good plot or very believable characters. Honestly, I'm not even sure what the plot is suposed to be. The main character has several adventures, but none of them seem to come together to form an actual plot. It felt like the author was just having her main character run around from place to place so she could show off all her "wonderful" world building skills. It just didn't make sense at all.

Then we come to the characters themselves. They are totally underdeveloped, causing me not care one whit about what happens to any of them. Most of the time the characters aren't even referred to by name. They are called things like "the watcher", "the lad", or "the mercenary". That style didn't work well in Red Badge of Courage and it sure as heck didn't work well here. Part way through the book it became apparent that the main character was a vegitarian. This seemed to be very important, but the whys and hows were never explained. Many other things were never explained or just glossed over as well which was extremely annoying.

I guess the biggest flaw of all is that the author has a tendency to tell instead of show. If you've taken any basic writing course at all, you know that you should "show, not tell". The only thing the author shows is her world. She may spend 3-4 long paragraphs describing a dress that an unnamed, unimportant character is wearing, but she'll only spend 1 paragraph on a huge piece of action that would e very interesting to read about if she had some writing skills.

You may have noticed by now that I really didn't like the book. The writing style was awful. Dart-Thorton seemed way too impressed with her ability to write a sentence backwards and upside down. She was also way too impressed with her world. This book had serious potential, but it got weighed down with unimportant details while skipping the very things that would have made it interesting. Honestly, I don't know how this book made it past an editor. I would like to take a red pen to it and then send the results to both publisher and author. This book is part one of a series, but I will not be wasting any more time or money on books by this woman.

Overall, I'll give it a 2 out of 5 amulets.


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