The Ill-Made Mute (The Bitterbynde No.1) – Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Originally published 2001
In recent years, I’ve read very little high fantasy. It doesn’t resonate with me the way it once did, at least right now. There was a time, however, when my pre-teen self drew maps of fictional worlds to cover my wardrobe doors and ransacked Norse mythology for character names, and this was when I first discovered Australian author Cecilia Dart-Thornton’s The Ill-Made Mute. It influenced the way I wrote for years afterwards and remains one of the most beloved books on my shelf. I can think of no better choice to celebrate my 200th review!
In the wilds stands Isse Tower, an isolated outpost of the Stormriders. In the upper chambers the nobility dance and scheme, while in the depths of the fortress the servants gather against the dark to exchange stories of the dangerous world beyond their walls. Their lives are unexpectedly disrupted when a foundling is rescued from the wilderness – a voiceless, disfigured amnesiac too akin to the phantoms they fear to be trusted by anyone in the Tower. Lost, alone and unloved, it seems the foundling will remain buried in the vaults of the fortress forever…but hope may lead to the strangest path of all.
Dart-Thornton draws on obscure European folk lore in a way I think is genuinely comparable to J.R.R. Tolkien in terms of imagination and world-building, but takes a very different direction. While she has a tendency to get lost in description and the plot moves at a sometimes frustratingly slow pace, her writing is some of the most exquisite use of language I’ve ever read, and the story that gradually unfolds is dazzlingly constructed. It has become a part of me, this book, and will always be the standard to which I compare other high fantasy. The trilogy continues with The Lady of the Sorrows and concludes with The Battle of Evernight.