Arrow of the Mist by Christina Mercer
Published: 2013, Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Series Not yet titled, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: eARC for review from Xpresso Blog Tours
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All her life Brume's mysteries intrigued her, like a distant kinsman bonded by blood, but a stranger in every other way. Now, its misty gates pressed hard upon her eyes, cold and unyielding as it called out to her soul.
Expectations are sometimes the worst, especially when you learn just how off your expectations are from reality. Before starting Arrow of the Mist, my expectations weren't sky-high or unattainable. I saw a beautiful cover, read a blurb that promised a quest into a magical land and herblore, and thought that this would be a solid fantasy read at the very least. I think Mercer's story may have potential to develop into a good fantasy novel, but it's not there at this particular point in time.
Lia and her family live in Nemetona, a kingdom that shares its borders with the magical land of Brume. The rulers of Nemetona have forbidden their people to travel to Brume, but an even better deterrent is the fact that passage into Brume requires going through a cloud of fog, of which few survive. Somehow, however, the magic of Brume has gotten into Nemetona, and the barbed roots of the Straif tree begin to poison and eventually kill those living along the edges of the forest. Lia's father is one of those poisoned, and she is determined to save his life. Her grandparents are some of the few people who have successfully traveled into Brume, so with her grandfather's knowledge and her deceased grandmother's book of herblore, Lia, her granda, her cousin Wynn, and his friend Kelven make the journey to Brume.
What starts out as a simple enough quest becomes more and more convoluted. When approached for help and answers, the magical inhabitants of Brume respond with non-answers and suggest other beings who may better understand how to stop the Straif's poison and power. And beneath the magical veneer, Lia comes to realize that even in this world full of magic, there are no easy solutions and something is terribly amiss.
So, where to start with my review. I'll start with the good. I liked Lia for the most part. She definitely fits the familiar pattern of a high fantasy heroine: determined to right wrong and protect those she loves, yet gentle at heart, kind, considerate, humble. She even wields a bow. But Lia is nonetheless the best part of this book. I'll always love a character who has a cause to promote or a mission to accomplish. Best of all, Lia begins to come into her own throughout the novel. She's reliant on other people, books, knowledge, until she realizes that she can't be. That she has to learn how to solve problems herself. That while her grandmother's herb book can help, as can her granda's knowledge, and her cousin Wynn's presence, at the end of the day she must use her own wits and determination to make things right. And this journey is not easy for Lia, emotionally, mentally, or physically. Yet she perseveres due to her love of others. Certainly she's an admirable heroine in my mind.
Against the creation and execution of Lia's character, however, mostly everything else felt flat and unrealistic to me. In a way, it seemed as though Mercer had a lot of expectations about what a high fantasy novel should contain and was too ambitious in how she tried to make everything fit together into one story.
The worldbuilding in particular left a lot to be desired. Since it's my favorite genre, I read a lot of high fantasies. I don't think I'll ever get bored of the idea that a magical world is just within reach of the ordinary world. It's a trope that has been around for quite a while, at least since stories of King Arthur with Britain and Avalon, but probably even earlier than that. Terry Goodkind used this well in his creation of D'hara, the Midlands, and Westland in his Sword of Truth series. As did Garth Nix with the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre in his Abhorsen trilogy. And many more. I feel as though Mercer was trying to accomplish something similar with her creation of Nemetona and Brume, yet its execution felt quite flat to me. Readers are given no explanation for how Brume came to be, or its place within this world — simply mentioning that there are tensions between Nemetona and Brume is not sufficient. I wanted to know what had caused the formation of Brume and more about the interaction between the two lands.
Likewise, adding an influx of magical creatures does not a convincing magical land make. At points I marveled at how apparently every single magical creature possible existed here. There were fairies, water sprites, witches, rock giants, trolls, unicorns, ghosts/spirits, etc. Honestly it just felt a bit overwhelming and I'm not sure it was necessary to include them all. What I would have loved to see is some humans in this world. As it was, nothing in Brume seemed remotely like the characters, and so there was no chance for my understanding to lie anywhere but with the human characters who found themselves inside of this magical realm. The magical beings served one main purpose: to help Lia on her quest. Outside of that, little information is given about them.
The conflict was also pretty confusing. At the most basic level, the Straif tree roots present a very real and present danger to the people of Nemetona. Lia's quest becomes not simply a way to find a cure for her father, but also a way to stop the Straif in general. And to do so there are magical creature aides, prophesying witches (like something straight out of Macbeth here), evil spirits who toy with vast amounts of power. And what becomes a quest to save her father morphs into a quest of identity and coming to terms with her destiny. At times the conflict felt too convoluted, and at others it was just far too convenient.
Lia's relationships did have some potential. Her granda could have been a wonderful mentor, but he is removed far too quickly from the plot. There's a potential love interest, also removed very quickly. There's her cousin, Wynn, who actually remains with Lia throughout the journey, however he seems to primarily serve as her sidekick, with not enough revealed about him personally. And then there's Lia's grandmother. I actually liked the relationship between Lia and her grandmother; through herblore and riddles in her grandmother's book, Lia forms a connection with her grandma. Yet in the one scene where Lia could have actually had a sense of reunion and acceptance of her grandmother's passing, her grandmother's spirit is literally silenced. Lia's grandma is incredibly integral to Lia's growth, and yet I didn't even get glimpses of their relationship.
In case my review didn't make my thoughts apparent enough, I ended up pretty disappointed with this book. I struggled to read through it because of the blog tour, but if I ever did abandon a book halfway, this would have been a prime candidate. This is not to say that everything is bad in this book — just that I personally had a difficult time deriving any enjoyment out of it. I could see younger teens and those not as well-versed in high fantasies enjoying Arrow of the Mist quite a bit more than I did, however.
Rating: 1.5 stars
Disclaimer: This was originally going to be posted as part of the blog tour run by Xpresso Blog Tours, but that was a promotional tour, and obviously I have some issues with promoting my experience of reading this book.