Publisher’s Weekly Review of Mirrenwood—The Full Review
I was ecstatic when I heard—on New Year's Eve, no less—that Publisher's Weekly was giving Mirrenwood a review. I’ve mined a decent pull quote from it, now on the front page of this website: “A promising mythic fantasy… the palpable tension between the leads comes to its head and a truly clever twist is revealed.” (That’s something I do regularly as part of my day job, scouring references for flattering or interesting quotes about the books we are offering.) I wanted to include the review in its entirety, so here it is, from the January 24 issue:
Mirrenwood: A Tale of the Unicorn
Andrew Hallman. Crossroad, $17.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-63789-881-9
Hallman debuts with a promising but half-baked mythic fantasy. King Adalmund of Averonne succumbs to a mysterious illness, and the only way to cure him is to capture the fabled unicorn from the Mirrenwood wilderness and use the powder from its horn to make an antidote. The king commands his friend and royal physician, Zimenes, and his daughter, Princess Vialle, to lead this mission. As the two plunge into the heart of Mirrenwood, Zimenes develops a strong sexual attraction to the princess, despite also romancing the king’s wife, Tesse, who is Vialle’s mother. Hallman devotes much of the story to Zimenes’s identity search and romantic frustration as he juggles his inner turmoil and the critical task at hand, which leaves the magic system murky and many questions unanswered as plot plays second fiddle to character study. For readers not invested in Zimenes’s vaguely incestuous love triangle, the intrigue doesn’t pick up until the climax, when the palpable tension between the leads comes to its head and a truly clever twist is revealed. Fantasy readers will need to put in some work to enjoy this. (Mar.)
Not the most glowing review, obviously. On balance, though, I’d say it’s fair. The only word I really take exception to is “incestuous.” Lol, that makes it sound so dirty and disreputable. Ah, well.
I was glad the reviewer found the twist “truly clever.” It’s a central element of the book, and the part I was both most pleased with but also most concerned about. Is it too predictable? Does it feel random, or contrived? If even a jaded and overloaded PW reviewer found it surprising and effective, then I’ll take that as a good sign.
The bit about the “magic system” being murky is also interesting. In writing the second book—I’m presently revising the first draft—I’ve been thinking much more about the mechanics of magic in this world. To my mind, magic defies systematization. Some of the featured characters are trying to master magic, attempting to learn how to bend it to their will, but the more they learn and the closer they get the more it resists their control, and the wider the potential divergences from the caster’s original intent. Brandon Sanderson helpfully scores magic systems on a continuum. Toward one end cluster the “hard” magic systems, where magic follows clear rules and produces reliably repeatable effects, effectively reducing magic to a technology. Approaching the other end, magic becomes a wilder, more wondrous, untamable thing, and that’s definitely the end toward which the magic in Mirrenwood leans. It’s further complicated by the way medieval medicine might often have seemed magical, and by the way our modern psychological concepts of attraction and attachment can also affect us in ways that can be mysteriously, um... compelling. So, sure, in a word: murky. But as I work through book 2, I’ve been giving it more thought, though I can tell you it won’t ever be reduced to a “system.” So if that’s not your thing, fair warning.
The tentative romance between the two leads may be more central than some “fantasy fans” are used to—but here I think the reviewer actually slights the fandom somewhat: fantasy readers are quite welcoming of a wide variety of stories and genres and settings and characters within that larger tent. At least, that is my hope. As to whether you’ll have to “put in some work” to enjoy it, I’ll just point out that the novel is definitely on the shorter side, so if you do find the “character study” elements a bit much, they don't last long.
Just hang in there till that “truly clever twist is revealed”! :)