One star, read in October 2017.
This did not work for me. Graceling and Bitterblue are two of my all-time favorites, and some of the little YA that I am still able to read, so I was really hopeful for Cashore’s first book outside that series. But, in the first place, I wish I could have known that it would be such a complete disaster on audio. I don’t know why it was even released on audio, because the format does not work—there is absolutely nothing that lets you know, until at least halfway through, that this is a five-different-possible-timelines situation. And my extreme confusion led to much less patience than I might normally have had, so that once I could tell what the shit was going on, I hated it.
There are a lot of spoilers in the next paragraph (you’ve been warned).
I don’t know which I hated most: the alternate dimension timeline with the sentient house, the pet velociraptors, the alien invasion, the pirates, and the idiotic way Mrs. Thrash speaks? The one with the dog going through the painting, and the names that sound like 70’s sci-fi, but the world itself sounds maybe medieval? The house full of art thieves/forgers/creators/experts and non-partisan international spies? The vanished stepmother who has somehow possessed the house and managed to create an evil magic library that eats people? And is it just because I was listening to the audio, and therefore couldn’t tell what was going on, that I have no idea whether one of those was supposed to be the real one? Is Aunt Magnolia really alive in that world with the dog and the sea-bears? Would she have turned out to be secretly alive in the other timelines, or is it just in that one? What happened to Charlotte or Mrs. Thrash in any of the other storylines besides their respective ones? Were Lucy and Colin stealing from the house in all the other timelines, too? Are these things that are clearer in a print copy of the book? I finally checked one out to compare, because I’m still frustrated by how much a complete and utter flop this was.
I have to say, also, it was a bad coincidence of timing that I just reread Rebecca, by Daphne duMaurier, last week—because this book does an unfortunate number of really, really obvious references to it, and I hated that as well. The unpleasant housekeeper named Mrs. Vanders (occasionally called Vanny), the dog named Jasper, the house named Tu Reviens, the owner of the house with an unusual Roman name (Octavian instead of Maxim). If it had been several years since I’d last read Rebecca, these unsubtle allusions might have been fun instead of irritating. There’s an author’s note in the back of the print copy that explains all these references—to Winnie the Pooh and Jane Eyre as well as others—but which did not make me feel any better about them.
Truthfully, on top of everything else, I don’t think the book is very well written. Cashore is certainly capable of better dialogue, narration, and character development than she gave us here. I hate how much I hated this book, and I hope her next one is an enormous improvement.