I enjoyed A Taste of Gold and Iron so much, I decided to get Alexandra Rowland’s first two novels from my local library. Her debut novel, A Conspiracy of Truths, features an irascible, foul-mouthed storyteller named Chant on trial for witchcraft. Every attempt to defend himself lands Chant in deeper trouble.
Throughout the book, Chant tells fables meant to influence his audience. Initially his goal is to keep warm in his dank prison cell--and stay alive--but as he’s drawn more deeply into local politics, his stories have potentially devastating consequences.
She was given a war bow, and the first thing she learned was how to care for it--to push her knee into the belly of the bow when stringing it, to unstring it when it was idle or at the first sign of damp, to fletch her own arrows, to never pluck the string without an arrow nocked to it, to whittle a draw-ring from antler or bone, and to draw to her cheekbone, always her cheek bone/
A Conspiracy of Truths was at turns hilarious and suspenseful, though I found the main character’s self-centered anger tiresome at times. Despite Chant’s bitter sarcasm and mean-spirited rages, his cleverness and outrageous scheming kept me turning pages.
Rowland’s second novel, A Choir of Lies, was less successful for me. This story is told by the first storyteller’s apprentice, Yfling, a few years after the conclusion of the first novel. The protagonist Chant of A Conspiracy of Truth suffered from anger issues. Yfling is depressed and passive for the first half of A Choir of Lies and that made the character unappealing for me.
A favorite passage where Yfling tries to describe his pain:
“My heart scrubbed raw with sandpaper.” There, that will do. “Drowning on dry land, feeling like the water is about to close over my head at any moment, frantic and panicked and scared.” Or even, “Lying down in the middle of a deserted road and crying and screaming until my throat bleeds.”
I didn’t read this second book closely--in fact I skimmed most of the fables and stories Yfling recited. The book did pick up halfway through when Yfling met a handsome stranger, and the conclusion, when Yfling finally takes decisive action, was satisfying.
Reading them helped me see how Alexandra Rowland has grown as an author, which I found instructive.