Tallow – Karen Brooks
Random House, 2011
I love winning things. Who doesn’t? This is the second book I have won after participating in the giveaways on Rowena Cory Daniells’ blog (the first being Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, the review of which I posted not so long ago). Karen Brooks may be a familiar name to readers of Queensland newspaper The Courier Mail, in which she has a regular column. Tallow is the first book in her YA trilogy, ‘The Curse of the Bond Riders’.
In the canal-laced city of Serenissima there are legends of the Estrattore, a people once venerated, now all but extinct after a religious purge. Only an impoverished candlemaker and his embittered mother know that the child they call Tallow, raised to be an apprentice in their shop, is one of that outlawed race. Even they, however, cannot imagine what the foundling may become, and at what price the secret must be kept. Because the power of an Estrattore is a prize indeed, and Tallow is being hunted.
Tallow opens very slowly with an overused premise – a remarkable infant, a secret prophecy, a humble peasant in the right place at the right time. It only really hits stride about halfway through when my preferred characters, the enigmatically creepy Giaconda and Ezzelino, emerge to make their mark. In fact, this book’s greatest strength lies in the moral complexity of its characters. Unusual relationships and complicated motives make it difficult to predict what they might do next. Even those that on the surface appear cliched (e.g., the humble peasant) are capable of surprises. The final few chapters build to a dramatic climax that promises a very different twist to the continuing story in book two, Votive. ‘The Curse of the Bond Riders’ concludes in the recently released third book of the trilogy, Illumination.