Caitlin Sweet's first book, A Telling of Stars, offers a compelling new addition to this tradition of epic quests and journeys.
In a novel described by fantasy master Patricia McKillip as "full of dream-like imagery and unexpected dramas...some of which linger in the memory past the ending," A Telling of Stars follows Jaele as she roams her lands in search of the murderous creature — a Sea Raider — that has killed her beloved parents and younger brother Elic.
On her first foray beyond the quiet fishing village where her family has lived in peace and harmony, Jaele encounters peoples that are both frightening and wise. She meets the green and blue-scaled fishfolk who sell goods in the markets of Luhr and give her a special gift of entry to their deep-water kingdom; she meets the enslaved earth silga who live deep beneath the ground making horns for their masters; and she falls in love with the tribe of Alilan, a gypsy people that fight and dance their way across the countryside.
As Jaele explores new lands, she must also confront both her growing love for a mysterious young man named Dorin — whose distance haunts her even as they grow intimate — and her hatred for the creature that has hurt her family. Touching on the poles of human attachment, Sweet's novel probes such timeless questions as the nature of justice, the characteristics of love and the struggle for identity.
But in the same measure that A Telling of Stars is a book about a quest, so too it is a novel deeply concerned with the creative journeys of storytelling itself. Just as Sweet weaves a magical story around her reader, Jaele recounts her own story in lyrical and mesmerizing words to an audience of iben, for whom her telling offers long-awaited liberation:
'Telling is magic": she hears this somewhere, before or after, as sparks coil.
Speak to us of sunlight, they say now, bending so close to her that she feels the cool breath of their horns and talons. We have told you how long we have been prisoners, bound beneath the world. Please: speak to us again of the bright places you have seen. Tell us the turning of your mind and steps.
I will try, she says, and as her voice falls into the darkness they listen, straining to catch the words and make them sun. She speaks in this deep place, with earth and stone above, and forgets her hunger and skin. Spaces of sky and sea and desert. Giant, fisher, weaver, dancer, boy. A tangle of words, but she sees them all, feels each in her mouth like sorrow.
In Sweet's moving novel, stories have a transformative power for listener and teller alike. They make fact and feeling live. They offer freedom. They offer redemption. They offer an end to the quests of the body and mind. Like the great epic writers of the past, Sweet's refreshing new book gives us a new way of looking at our inner worlds, the world around us and the worlds created by wordsmiths like herself.
To read an excerpt from A Telling of Stars click here.