I really wanted to like The Rose Throne. I enjoyed Harrison’s The Princess and the Hound, which I found refreshingly original. But The Rose Throne disappointed me from the first page. While Harrison’s ideas are good, her somewhat lackluster execution made much of the book a chore to slog through, particularly during the first third to half. There is too much telling, as opposed to showing, which sometimes renders the prose rather flat. I also did not care for the ending, which manages to be both abrupt and anticlimactic. (And unless there is a sequel planned, the ending also leaves too much up in the air.)
My other frustration was with Harrison’s magic system. It was interesting, yes, but also annoyingly sexist. Essentially, there are two types of magic, one inborn in women and the other in men. (Once in a while, someone gets the “wrong” kind, which doesn’t go over well in society.) Women’s magic, neweyr, is nurturing; it has to do with growing things. (OK, I can swallow that; it’s a bit stereotyped, but it’s not unreasonable.) Men’s magic, taweyr, is, as far as I can tell, purely destructive; it’s as if testosterone rage were turned into a magical force. I can’t think of a single example where taweyr is used constructively. And that really bothers me. For one thing, it says some very disturbing things about the author’s view of men and their power. For another, it’s unbalanced. In most books, magic is like any other powerful force: like fire or water, it can be wielded for good or ill. Individuals usually have some choice in how they use their power, or else in what kind of power they use. But in this book, men (and a few women) have no choice. Their magic is essentially destructive; they can only use it and try not to be used by it.
Harrison has created an interesting world, and the court intrigue and political and social she depicts are bleak but believable. She tells the story in third person limited from the point of view of two princesses, one from each country, each wielding a different magic. (By the way, ignore the publisher’s blurb. It is wrong on several counts, including the implication that the princesses might have to kill each other.) I found both princesses compelling, but felt that Ailsbet acted inconsistently at times, while Harrison failed to sell me on Issa’s sudden love for a male character. He was intriguing but somewhat inscrutable; even at the end of the book, I wasn’t sure if I entirely trusted him, or whether he had personal motivations other than the ones he frequently expressed.
If the prose were more alive, and the magic system less sexist – or conversely, if Harrison had really explored how society would be affected by such a system, in addition to focusing on one man’s abuse of power – I would have enjoyed the book more. As I said, there were some good and thought-provoking ideas in there. But I’m still not sure I would forgive her the very unsatisfying ending.
About the Author: Mette Ivie Harrison is the author of The Princess and the Hound (which I liked), The Princess and the Bear, and several other books.
Rating: 2 stars
Category: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Egmont USA (May 14, 2013)
Book source: Advance review copy received through NetGalley