I think I may have misunderstood the description “literary fantasy.” I assumed that Daughter of Exile by Isabel Glass was going to be a fantasy novel that pushed the genre, playing with image and theme in ways that you don’t usually find in epic fantasy, piling on those multiple levels of meaning that my English Lit professors loved to torture us with, and generally blending fantasy with the best elements of “literature.” I thought it would be an imaginative, evocative twist on the genre, pulling pieces into a cohesive whole that really means something.
Apparently, I was wrong.
Spoiler warning from here on out.
My biggest problem with Daughter of Exile was the pacing. The book moves extremely quickly—in fact, it moves so quickly I never had a chance to settle into any one character. I felt disconnected from everyone in the book, including Angarred, the main character. This was a major problem for me because I like to be invested. I like to feel a pang when my favourite character is in danger. Not only did I not feel that pang, but when Lord Jerret (who should have been one of my favourite characters) died, I barely blinked. I actually thought “I should be upset, but I’m not”. My own disconnect disturbed me a little.
I blame my disconnect on the pacing, and the fact that the chapters almost felt to me like a checklist of things to accomplish: name drop this, mention that, have X do Y. Okay, next chapter: sow seed of idea Q here, insert romantic tension between B and C to create a love-triangle with A, etc. There wasn’t enough meat around the bones of this novel for me to feel satisfied with the story. Instead of being a three-hundred-and-thirty page novel, Daughter of Exile could easily be three three-hundred-and-thirty page novels, which is how stripped down it felt, and how much story was crammed into it.
I think what I’m trying to say is that the book lacked a certain sense of immersion. Everything moved so quickly that I never had time to just sit back and soak in the setting, which made the whole world feel shallow. It lacked a certain depth and richness of world-building I look for in an epic fantasy. I don’t want to say that it wasn’t there at all (because, thinking back, it was; it just felt masked by the too-fast pace of the plot), but I do want to say that, despite my disconnect, I can remember the characters and I can remember the plot of Daughter of Exile. I cannot remember the world, and I think that’s the novel’s biggest flaw: there was no sense that it took place there instead of here. It didn’t really feel like fantasy to me, and I don’t feel like Isabel Glass took advantage of all that the genre—or even her story—had to offer because nothing in the book surprised me.
When Rodarren’s madness was revealed to be all an act I think I actually said “duh” (earning an odd look from my roommate). And at one point, the group is furiously trying to remember some key bit of information and they can’t get it so everyone just goes to bed. The scene breaks, and then resumes with “In the morning so-and-so had remembered.” I wondered why so-and-so hadn’t been murdered in the middle of the night to make the quest that much harder. Certain tasks felt too easy, which I think interfered with my suspension of disbelief and contributed to my lack of connection.
As fantasy novels go, it’s decent. It’s not terrible, and is eminently readable (which is not to be underestimated), but I don’t think it deserves that title of literary fantasy that I’ve heard applied to it. Granted, my expectations may have been a tad high for the book, and I don’t expect to love every book or I read, or to be blown away by every single ending, but from something called “literary fantasy,” I do expect something more ground-breaking than what Glass produced.
[This has been review #1in the For Your Review series. Be sure to following along with KD's first-time assessments of fantasy recommendations in the coming weeks!]