Make room, GRRM: Chrysoula Tzavelas knows how to bring on the pain.
I’ve just finished CITADEL OF THE SKY, which Chrysoula is in the midst of Kickstarting, and, like, whoa.
This is not GRRM-style fantasy, let me make that clear. You don’t spend every turn of the page in fear that your protagonists are all going to be dead on the next one. It’s a cast of several, but not thousands. It’s also under 300 pages, which is like a quarter or a third of the length of a GRRM book. And in voice it’s–it’s not even faintly GRRM. It’s almost more…well, the *tone* is more like Eddings or Brooks or Lackey or–it’s not grimdark. You can’t possibly mistake it for grimdark, even if four people are dead by the end of the first paragraph (which is one of the greatest opening paragraphs I’ve ever read).
But holy crap, does it bring on the pain. But mostly psychological pain: the royal family has a gift for magic that leads to madness, and nobody I know writes crazy like Chrysoula does. She captures emotion and mindset incredibly well, and there were whole scenes I spent going “holy shit THAT’S how you do that in a book*!”
There are two main viewpoint characters in CITADEL, Tiana and Kiar. Tiana tries desperately to be the Normal Good Girl, which her position and surrounding events are never going to let her be. The moment where she stops being the Good Girl–for a very necessary reason–is very powerful, by dint of coming out of such regular, normal language–this isn’t stylised epic, it’s epic in a voice you and I would use if we found ourselves caught up in an epic adventure–and she never comes back from that dangerous, powerful place.
Kiar, OTOH, just doesn’t want to be noticed at all; she’s probably the best-realized introvert I’ve ever read. She’s also so unassuming as to be slightly maddening, which is brilliant characterisation. Her magic was a little harder for me to grasp than Tiana’s, although I eventually got the hang of it, and (although I caught a sniff of one with Tiana) it’s her romantic (very, very) subplot that really gave me the warm wigglies.
Seriously, the characterisation in this book. #headdesk Not just Kiar and Tiana, but the whole royal family, some of whom are hardly on the page at all, but who are beautifully sketched out with just a few lines. In fact, it’s one of those characters who ultimately brings the *most* pain, and that’s quite a feat. But it’s perfect: it’s perfectly done, that awful moment, and it tells us a huge amount about the characters surrounding it. So. Well. Done.
And I would like to doff my hat for Soula’s use of–let’s call it negative space. Moments when all we see is the reaction, rather than the action. It makes for a handful of incredibly elegant moments in the book, and I am *full* of admiration for the skill.
And also the descriptions. #headdeskMore Seriously, while reading her novel WOLF INTERVAL I was torn between wanting to do a Walker Papers/Senyaza crossover with her and being painfully aware that my descriptions would look like rudimentary stick figures beside hers. This has not changed with CITADEL OF THE SKY. :)
Interestingly, the writing felt a little rough in places–rougher than the Senyaza books–and I don’t know if that’s because I was reading an ARC or if it was reading it on my e-reader or if it was that I read it too disjointedly or if it’s deliberate. It was only a very minor distraction, and I think only noticeable to me because I’ve read Chrysoula’s other books, but I’ll be curious to see if that faint roughness is polished out in the final version.
This is a rare book that I have every intention of re-reading before I read its sequel, which, frankly, I would like to get my grabby little hands on right now. I can’t, though, since the CITADEL Kickstarter is running for another 13 days and we’re not even thinking of sequels yet! G’wan so! :)
*I would like to note that the only other writer who has made me think that, in those words, is Judith Tarr, who is kind of renowned for being brilliant.