Brood of Bones, by A.E. Marling
Colorful, complex fantasy about an enchantress trying to deal with an epidemic of bizarre and unexplainable pregnancies in her city.
Hiresha the Elder Enchantress ("elder" being a title, not an indication of her age) is a wonderful, complex character. Afflicted with chronic sleepiness, she assumes an air of cold arrogance to cover up deep shame and insecurities, a painful compassion for the women and children afflicted by the unnatural pregnancies, and her own longings for love, family, and a normal life. She studied sorcery in an attempt to find a cure for her somnolence so she could have a hope of living a normal life, but instead, her position as an enchantress sets her even farther apart from normal. (Having Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I especially sympathized with Hiresha's frustrations and feelings of inadequacy at being unable to do things that most people take for granted.)
Hiresha works most of her magic when she's asleep, in a bejeweled dream laboratory that allows her to observe people and events with amazing precision. These sections are memorable for how colorful they are, in Hiresha's use of various gemstones to work her magic, and in the scientific approach she takes to her work.
The city of Morimound is a unique setting, certainly not your standard pseudo-medieval-Europe fantasy setting - which I definitely consider another plus. The culture, especially the religion and the belief in a cycle of floods, is interesting and well-developed. The other characters in the story are all well-drawn, unique, and well-rounded, especially Maid Janny, Hiresha's nursemaid/lady's maid/scold/comic sidekick, who helps Hiresha deal with the twenty-seven gowns she is required to wear as symbols of her sorcerous achievements and takes her down a notch when her defensive show of arrogance gets out of hand, and the Lord of the Feast, villain/ally/almost love interest.
Brood of Bones is written in a clear, colorful, beautiful style (though sometimes it's definitely creepy!), with an intriguing, suspenseful plotline that kept me reading, eager to find out what was behind the bizarre pregnancies, how Hiresha would save the women of her city, and if Hiresha could eventually come to terms with herself and her own desires. I was glad to see that the author has written other books set in the same world and featuring Enchantress Hiresha.
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