Brandy at Random Musings of a Bibliophile had a giveaway for this book awhile back, which reminded me that I really like Rachel Neumeier and hadn’t read this book. I elected to make sure the library copy kept going out, though, so it will stay on the shelf in the library longer.
The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008.
One of the things that I like so much about Rachel Neumeier’s work is that every book feels so different even while they all have sucked me right in. This one has a very classic, formal medieval feeling to it. Neill the Bastard is the king’s oldest son, not heir to the throne since his father officially married and fathered a legitimate son, Prince Cassiel. Neill has done his best to help his father and support his brother, while keeping himself emotionally removed from the court. When Prince Cassiel goes missing, suspicion naturally falls on the Bastard – but he knows that he is not at fault. He knows the truth of the old saying, “The Kingdom’s heart is the City. The City’s heart is the King. The King’s heart is the Prince.” He knows that without the prince, the whole kingdom is in grave danger.
Meanwhile, in a remote village, Timou, the mage’s daughter, grows up. She’s never met her mother, and though she has friends in the village, she feels that her mage studies set her apart from ordinary people (they kind of do). In her teens, most of her friends marry off, but she refuses the advances of the quiet former soldier Jonas who tries to court her even though she likes him because she’s going to be a mage. When her father doesn’t return after a trip to the City to find out what’s wrong with the kingdom, Timou disregards his orders and goes out alone to find him.
This is a beautiful story full of tricky thinking, layered realities, and the importance of taking the time to get to know yourself and the world around you. It has lovely turns of phrase, like the villagers saying that “every dewdrop reflected the beloved’s face” when they realize they are in love. It’s probably not the best for those who look for a fast-moving, exciting plot first and foremost, but for those who like me enjoy character-based stories beautifully set and told, it’s just perfect.