My rating: I’d go there again! (4/5)
I’ve been aware of this trilogy for quite awhile, and now that the final book has been out since July 2014, I decided to finally have a look. There’s something really nice about having the entire set in your hands, and knowing that when you finish one book, there’s not a year long wait until the next publication date.
I had some idea of what to expect out of The Gypsy King. It’s fantasy and you tend to expect certain things in this genre. I figured we’re have a quest and a prophecy; your standard fantasy fare. What I didn’t expect was the humour! This was downright funny at times. The interactions between the heroine, Persephone, and the young man that “rescues” her, Azriel, is hysterical.
Persephone and Azriel did not have a great first meeting, as Persephone catches Azriel red-handed steeling the chicken of her owner (yes, owner, more on this later). Right from the start, Persephone and Azriel have some comical exchanges. Even when threatening the handsome thief at knife point, both can’t help but be humorous:
“I’m not afraid to use this, you know!”
“And I’m not afraid to use this, ” he replied genially as he reached over her broad shoulder to pull a much larger dagger from the scabbard that was evidently strapped to his back. “In fact,” he added, in an almost nostalgic voice, “I’ve seven corpses to this blade.”
“Really?” sniffed Persephone, feigning indifference. “I’ve ten to this one.”
The thief grinned at the lie. “Excellent!” he said. “We’ll be well matched then. Come, step out of the shadows. Let us fight to the death. If I win, I get myself a fine, fat chicken dinner and if you win – “
“You will leave Mrs. Busby alone and depart at once!” said Persephone fiercly.
There was a long moment of silence. Then, in a rather mystified voice, the thief asked, “Who is Mrs. Busby?”
Without thinking, Persephone gestured toward the chicken in his arms.
“I…see,” said the thief. He looked to one side and then to the other before tilting his head toward her and solemnly inquiring, “Tell me, Mistress, do you name all creatures or just the ones that taste good with gravy and potatoes?” (p. 10-11)
The author excels as including great moments of levity between Persephone and Azriel, and I really liked this unexpected lightness. I thought the strong sense of humour throughout was a great balance to the overall darkness of the book. As a slave and as a woman, Persephone is constantly vulnerable to those around her. The lack of agency that it part of Persephone’s identity as a slave, is the element that I was most uncertain about. There was the potential for the use of this characteristic to be used in a gratuitous manner, with the violence that accompanies that. While Fergus never shies away from the harsh realities of slavery, she tempers that with elements of humour and considers the age of those likely reading this book.
I also felt that Persephone’s identity as a former slave governed many of her actions throughout The Gypsy King. Persephone has not trusted anyone in a long time and she is understandable mistrustful of even the idea of relying on someone else. At time this was a frustrating quality, as Persephone lies to those helping her because she’s afraid of being hurt, but it still makes sense. This distrustful personality was not resolved in The Gypsy King, and I think it’s something that’s going to play a big part of the next two books in the trilogy, especially in the romance department.
Speaking of the romance, I have to admit I thought it was adorable. As I’ve mentioned, Persephone and Azriel have some comical exchanges. From the beginning it’s clear that Azriel likes and cares for Persephone, but Persephone is extremely reluctant to return those feelings and would rather be independent than explore the relationship. Azriel was patient with Persephone, but I think her reluctance to commit is going to be a problem. The only thing I would have liked is to have gotten Azriel’s point of view and his thoughts on Persephone. Readers have to rely on Persephone’s interpretation of Azriel’s “looks” and in cases like that, I’m always left feeling that there’s a narrative that’s missing.
On to the villain. Regent Mordecai is quite the bad guy. He’s out of touch with reality and if he had a mustache, he’d be twirling it. In some ways I found that Mordecai is a bit of a caricature of a villain. Mordecai’s behaviour is so outrageous and extreme; he seems very much an exaggerated classic villain, even his physical appearance is over the top:
Many miles away, at the southernmost tip of the kingdom, in a sumptuously appointed room in a splendid seaside castle, a man slouched before a blazing fire.
He didn’t slouch because he was tired or lazy or old – he slouched because his cruelly twisted back made it impossible for him to sit straight and tall like other men. It also made it impossible for him to square his thin, uneven shoulders, throw out his wasted chest and hold his head high with ease. Sometimes, if he drew upon every last drop of his formidable willpower, he could temporarily keep from bending his neck and bobbing his head like a turkey vulture, but after only a short while the strain of doing so made him want to scream in agony. This was particularly true if he was trying to walk at the same time, for the legs that protruded from beneath the hem of his luxurious, fur-trimmed robe were crooked and withered. One crumbled foot turned in – the result of a near-fatal childhood illness – and one leg was considerably shorter than the other. Together, these deformities accounted for his awkward, lurching gait, which was so utterly lacking in dignity (p. 31-32).
Mordecai’s villany very clearly manifests itself in his physical appearance, and his thought process demonstrates his lack of awareness with reality. I’m curious as to whether or not Mordecai will be given more dimension in the next two books in the series. As it stands, the bad guy is a simplified character and he’s easy to dislike. I can’t help but think there’s usually more behind this kind of behaviour in real life, and I’m curious if the author is going to address this. I can’t say I’ll be overly disappointed if it’s not addressed; at the end of the day I’m reading the trilogy for the heroes not the villains.
Lastly, the ending of this books makes me extremely glad that I have the next two books in my hands. The Gypsy King ended with some pretty significant reveals, which I will not spoil here. I cannot way to dive into book two and see how this impacts Persephone since I don’t think she’s going to be thrilled about the changes to come or willing to accept her true birthright.
Ultimately, The Gypsy King is a great fantasy read. The heroes are dynamic, and in a world filled with threats, the author consistently shows the ability to include lighthearted and humourous moments to temper the despair. I will be back for book two, and I recommend that everyone else pick this trilogy up post-haste.
For a similar, but more adult read, try Grace Draven’s Master of Crows. Like Persephone, Martise is also a slave, and I thought the author handled this situation well, including the Martise’s conflicting attitudes towards her owner and her orders, and her growing feelings towards the man she is supposed to be spying on. Stacey reviewed this one in full in September.
For those looking for a strong romance, try Maria V. Snyder’s Touch of Power. This is a start to a series that fans of The Gypsy King will likely enjoy. Avery is a healer, and when she’s taken prisoner for her powers, she finds herself involved in a fight for the crown, much like Persephone is. While there isn’t much humour between Avery and her hero, I think fans of Persephone and Azriel will appreciate the romance here.
For another young woman on a reluctant quest, try Star of Morning. Morgan is a trained mercenary that quickly finds herself reluctant involved in a battle of epic proportions. Like Persephone, Morgan is quite snarky and unhappy with her quest, which leads for some great entertainment for readers. While this one is geared towards adult readers, I think it’s also suitable for teens.