REVIEW: THE SCRIVENER'S TALE BY FIONA MCINTOSH

SCRIVENER’S TALE, THE
Author: Fiona McIntosh
Voyager RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

The Scrivener's TaleI tend not to read a lot of fantasy books, but after reading The Lavender Keeper and being captivated by Fiona McIntosh’s superb storytelling, I had to give The Scrivener’s Tale a go. I’m glad I did – I was soon transported from present-day Paris into medieval Morgravia and swept along with a fantastical adventure. Those familiar with McIntosh’s writing will recall Morgravia from The Quickening series; however, this novel is not a continuation of that series but a stand alone.

Following the loss of his wife and son, former psychologist Gabe Figaret is trying to put his shattered life back together. He buries himself in writing and the cafes and bookshops of Paris, keeping his guard up, lest anyone see the hurting man within. When he needs to he escapes to an imaginary cathedral in his mind – it’s a place he feels safe: “…his special, private, secure place where as a boy, he believed dragons kept him safe within.” While he admits it sounds strange, he has this strong sense that the cathedral contains “towering, mystical creatures of stone” that act as totems for the people who visit. It is to this “cathedral” as well as the real-life Notre Dame that he goes after another doctor and acquaintance asks him to help a delusional female patient. Gabe has tried to put his past as a psychologist behind him; he is reluctant to invite any reminder of the past into his life.

Meeting Angelina soon makes him change his mind. She convinces him that Reynaud is not what he seems and Gabe is drawn to help her escape the clutches of a seemingly overbearing man. But escape, she reveals, means killing her and fleeing to a place she calls Morgravia. Horrified, Gabe refuses, but when she shows him that his imaginary cathedral is real and exists in Morgravia, he starts to wonder. Before long, his world is turned upside down and he is caught up in magical events that threaten to spiral out of control.

Meanwhile, in Morgravia, Cassien, a gifted warrior of the Brotherhood, is given a secret brief. He must protect Queen Florentyna from an imminent magical threat – that of the demon, Cyricus, who wants to destroy the land. On the way he meets the orphaned Hamelyn, a young boy who also possesses magical gifts. As the demonic threat grows, Gabe, Cassien and Hamelyn become bound in the mission to stop Cyricus and save Morgravia; it’s as if destiny has called for the three to meet for this exact purpose. But will they succeed? And at what cost? And what does the cathedral have to do with it all?

With prophecies, dragons, evil stepmothers, quests, demons, warriors, curses and kingdoms, The Scrivener’s Tale ticks all the boxes for epic fantasy. It’s an extraordinary read set in a vivid and well-constructed realm, with some terrific, strong characters propelling a somewhat complex storyline through to its conclusion. I had no trouble getting caught up in this world and hoping that good would prevail. I also enjoyed the romantic thread throughout the action (though the match I had in mind did not eventuate).

Character-wise, I particularly liked Cassien, Florentyna, Hamelyn and Fynch’s characters, though I did feel that Hamelyn was a little underdeveloped (perhaps there is room for him in a spin-off?). Florentyna was a wonderful character – I admired her strength, spirit and dignity, all beautifully befitting a Queen. As for Gabe, despite the early insight into his character, he remained in the background for a large part of the story, so I didn’t feel as if I got to know him as well. And the demons, Cyricus and his side-kick Aphra? As expected, they were vengeful, bitter, evil and well … demonic. McIntosh made it easy for me to be on the good side (not that I wouldn’t be anyway).

I really enjoyed reading The Scrivener’s Tale.; it was fun, imaginative, romantic and almost unputdownable once the action started. It’s one of those books that on the one hand you don’t want to end, but on the other hand, you do because the action has you in such a state that you just want to know that everything works out okay. (Or is that just me?) I’m pleased to say I did not skip to the ending just to end the suspense and calm my nerves.

If you love epic fantasy, read this and let yourself become part of the story. Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Harper Collins.

Bookish treat: A glass of warm mead to keep you warm when travelling in time.