Sunday, 27 February 2011

Power and Majesty by Tansy Rayner Roberts

I first came across Tansy Rayner Roberts when I read her excellent urban fantasy novelette Siren Beat set in the city of Hobart, full of nasty kraakens, mermaids and sirens. So when I discovered that she had a trilogy coming up, I was doubly excited.

Power and Majesty is first book in the Creature Court trilogy. This is not your run-of-the-mill fantasy. The plot follows Velody, a dressmaker (yes, you read that right) and her two best friends Delphine, the ribboner and Rhian, the florister from when they arrive to Aufleur, an imaginary city reminiscent of Rome, seeking apprenticeship.

On the first night in the city Velody learns and equally quickly forgets about Aufleurs’s dark secret and her own power. The story jumps seven years and we follow the three friends as they’re setting up their dressmaking business and their discovery that nothing and no one is what they seem in the city of Aufleur.

During the day it is a city of festivals, ribbons and honey cakes. At night, whilst the citizens are asleep (probably exhausted from so many festivals), the Creature Court, a group of eccentric and extravagant humans, endowed with Animor, magical power/ability that enables them to transform into birds, cats, pigeons and other animals, fight the very angry sky that threatens to swallow the city. And like every other court they are entangled in court politics where loyalty is clawed out of the subjects and alliances are fleeting and fragile.

What I particularly liked about this book is that Roberts manages to avoid a simplistic dichotomy of night v day and evil v good. She exposes the dark side of the daytime Aufleur as well as the gentler side of otherwise harsh and cruel night-dwellers of the old underground city. There are shades of grey in both realms.

The characters are equally well developed and once again Roberts manages to avoid stereotypes. Velody is a powerful, gutsy and feminine, which is in sharp contrast to a common portrayal of women in urban fantasy as ‘men-with-boobs’ - leather clad vixens brandishing a large gun or a sword. Velody is rather – for a lack of better word – normal and her weapons of choice are a sturdy broom or a pair of scissors.

Other characters, particularly those from the Creature Court, are equally impressive. The main male character is Ashiol Xandelian, a Bruce Wayne-type character, brooding and troubled aristocrat.  Some of the minor characters are true gems such as the young Duchessa, Macredy the sentinel, Garnet, the big bad meany, but my favourite character by far is Poet, aptly named the Lord of Rats. I swayed between repulsion to utter sympathy for him.

Power and Majesty cleverly stretches and bends the rules and norms of urban fantasy through the exploration of gender roles, sexuality and questions of power. At the same time, it offers a very interesting plot with a satisfying dose of magical and fantastical.

The book doesn’t end with a big aplomb or a great revelation; it feels more like a lull before a big storm. I am certainly looking forward to discovering where Roberts takes her characters in the remaining two books. Book 2 called Shattered City will be out in April 2011.

P.S. I’ve read some reviews that thought that the book cover was somewhat misleading, alluding to a ‘chick lit’ or YA book. One thing is for sure – this is the book that shouldn’t be judged by its cover.


  1. Hey, nice review, Maja! How about writing one for The Specusphere now and then?

  2. That is a good review -- of a very good book.

  3. Nice review, Maja, and I endorse your comments about the cover. If I hadn't read other fiction by Tansy I would have been inclined to pass it over because of the cover. That would have been a pity because it was a very enjoyable read and I'm looking forward to the next in the trilogy.


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