Ha! I love the reviews for this book. If you’re older than 14, and have ever read anything the cover of which does *not* feature embossed gold lettering and a fire-breathing dragon Goddess, you love it. People who don’t understand the ‘show’ vs ‘tell’ distinction but use it anyway, people who have the vocabulary of a 12 year old, and people who are unwilling to put in any effort whatsoever hate it. I don’t read much fantasy, just because I can’t take much description in prose, let alone the stilted, turgid style that seems to dominate the genre. But that’s not a problem here.

Simply put, this is beautifully written, very intelligent and suitably imaginative. Reading it is a pleasure thanks to Bakker’s style; it’s engrossing thanks to the characters and the story; and it’s funny if you can train-spot all the historical references. They range from the first Crusade (Xerius = Alexius I; Maithenet = Urban II) through a whole range of philosophical schools from the Eastern and Western traditions.

Most of the book is written in varying degrees of free indirect style, and occasionally Bakker’s need to stuff information into a scene is a bit too noticeable. But given how much information the reader needs in order to understand the world she’s being thrown into, it’s not too outrageous. Sometimes Bakker has too many fragments, but they weren’t too obtrusive. The real problem here was pointed out by another reviewer: the women are all whores or shrews. I don’t mean ‘in general.’ I mean there are three women in the book, and they are whores or shrews. I’ll give Bakker the benefit of the doubt, and assume that he’s trying to point out a fact about our world’s (deplorable) treatment of women by highlighting how badly they’re treated in the world of the novel – the narrator is definitely sympathetic to Esmenet, at least. I hope he’s writing those characters with something clever in mind; it’s more than a little obnoxious otherwise.I