I try not to launch myself into trilogies on only the advice of friends. However, since I was handing off a trilogy to my good friend Cat to read, I could scarcely tell her no when asked to read one for her. Granted, I’m going to end up breaking the books up a bit (I have reading for school to do, and a different book that a different friend has asked me to read) but I’ve at least gotten through the first of Cecilia Dart-Thornton’s Bitterbynde trilogy, The Ill-Made Mute.
…I’m going to have trouble waiting on the next two books.
As I have often found, both in the Black Jewels trilogy I lent to Cat, and even Lord of the Rings, I find it difficult to get into fantasy epics when they start. I can’t count the number of times I started reading LotR and gave up before they’d even really started. (Weathertop was just too much for me, let alone the Council.) Bitterbynde was really no different. It was an interesting premise, seeing the disfigured servant boy with no name shuttered around a castle. Also, I knew from the back cover that he escaped the castle, so I had that to look forward to…but finding the way out felt arduous. It was only the promise of my friend that the books were good, and the knowledge that eventually, something would happen that got me through.
And sure enough, once the nameless protagonist (a trick I really find interesting, and executed better than I’d feared) got themselves off on their journey, the plot picked right up. The inclusion of characters like Sianadh, swarthy pirate-made-companion, and Thorn, dark and mysterious roadside traveler, make the story pop all the more. Sianadh brings a very human aspect to the protagonist, giving them a name—Imrhien—and beginning to teach them the ways of the world. He is the first person to not shy away from the disfigurements the protagonist has, and the first to treat them as he would any other. Thorn brings forth a decidedly different human side to our protagonist—and one I won’t delve into, for fear of spoilers. But the way the dynamic between Thorn and everyone else, and then Thorn and the protagonist is different, absolutely fascinates me. The way Dart-Thornton describes the emotions that flood the protagonist are crystalline in their evocativeness, and have a way of reminding me as a reader of exact moments that I too have felt that way.
It’s difficult to get a feel of the overall character development, because it’s clear that there is far more to go. I hope that Thorn appears in later books, because his presence brought a very distinct boost to the storytelling, and it would be a shame to see him home. Sianadh felt somewhat flat for the position he appeared to play; I am curious if I missed something, or if there is more to come with him, or if he has simply served a purpose and moved on. I will think it decidedly unfortunate if it is the last, though not surprising. Imrhien’s development is clearly only beginning, though the end of the book does bring them to an entirely appropriate pausing place; a cycle has completed and now a new one can begin.
It is with a heavy heart that I step away from the characters for a book or two, but I have no doubt that they will welcome me back when I return—and this time, I won’t need a warmup period. I’ll be able to jump in with both feet, and find out what is in store next for our dear Imrhien.