Court of mirrors, by Concepción Perea.


Nationality: Spanish.
Publisher: Fantascy.
Pages: 672.
Translated: no.
Saga: no. 1


The Court of Mirrors is the capital city and heart of EarthBorder, a kingdom where fairies don't believe that humans exist, an old city which was decisive during the Sleeping Queen War.
Many years have passed after that bloody conflict that left behind a fragile peace, a long list of resentments and an unstable throne. A war that still divides the Aen Sidhe, proud governors, and the Gentile, fairies with no titles or privileges.
There live Nicasia, a knocker and engineer, and Dujal, a phoka too keen on risk. They've both been into a long-term power struggle in which Marsias, a peaceful satyr owner of a brothel, tries to intercede as much as he can.
The murder of Manx, Dujal's tutor as well as Marsias and Nicasia's brother sister in arms, will make them join together in an investigation to find the culprits. They set out on a journey that will lead them from the centaurs's forests to mount StarToucher, inhabited by ferocious goblins. Always chased by the long shadow of the mysterious Lady TunnelRunner and by Nicasia's well-kept secrets.





I don't exactly like this summary, as it's packed with non-defining clauses that cause trouble understanding who's who, but the thing is: there are so many goings-on in the novel that it'd be crazy  to write a good synopsis without spoiling something important, so, it's ok with this one; at least it's not a big fat lie, as it happens sometimes with back cover synopses. 


Well, never mind that by now! This time I'm very happy with my last read. As you know, I've been struggling to find an excellent book to make a good start on my blog, and, even if I haven't been able to find one which had been previously translated, I hope I'll get as many foreign readers interested in this author one day as to have her first book translated.


To start with, I have to say that the story's very well built up. There's not only a plot line that makes sense, without gaps, but also the characters have background stories and inner conflicts that develop little by little. Obviously, I'm not going to talk in depth about each, or I'd be making it totally unnecessary for you to read the book. I'll only say that, in the end, we get to think about what the characters learn: revenge vs justice, friends and/vs relatives, friendships vs loyalties. Also, these characters aren't paragons of virtue, which makes them deeper and more realistic; they skip the rules of right and wrong as if they were skipping rope, and by the end of the story, they'll realize what actions went wrong and will have to go for either staying the same or changing. I'd even say that their values are a bit different from the mainstream, which doesn't mean they're wrong, they're, simply, quite more open minded than the usual nowadays. A 12-year-old student of mine said once that people aren't as modern as they used to be anymore (LOL); but I have to say that, his own way, he was right: people were more free in the 90's or 2000's. Nowadays, you can't say anything without appearing on the internet getting censored or insulted. If you're lucky, only judged.


Nonjudgmental at all.

I have to say that I'd love to fangirl like a teenager about this story and the characters in it, as I've loved them all and I'm hoping to find out when there'll be a second part. Anyway, I don't intend to do that; as you may know, my main goal here is to let you know why this book is good by means of analyzing its formal aspects. First of all, I'm going to start with a couple of drawbacks I've found in the writing (very few, really), and then I'll move on to all the rest.

My first objection is that there's summary in some parts where she could have built a scene. It's not a big deal, and maybe it was even intentional, as sometimes a whole scene, obviously, gets too long and boring. Anyhow, it doesn't happen that often in this novel, but there are some of examples in which she just doesn't reproduce the exact words characters say, but goes for a summary using reported speech (she told him... he answered) instead, which occupies more or less the same amount of lines she would have needed in direct speech. This struck me as a bit strange when I came across it, but even so, it's not disturbing neither does it interrupt the reading flow. It's just that these kind of writings are regarded as bad corrections, or as laziness on the part of the writer, or maybe inexperience. Well, my assumption here is that, since Court of mirrors is Concepción's first novel, maybe she just didn't realize, or the correctors didn't find it that serious. And it isn't so if it doesn't appear too often. Example in the novel; four characters, Dujal, Yirkash, Airún and Xarin are inside a mountain, and then, this happens:


«this time they didn't have to crawl; Dujal wouldn't have enjoyed chasing the blacksmith's ass in the middle of the dark. This tunnel allowed them to walk upright. In regards to the phoka, Yirkash invoked a little light that fluttered over their heads; not a very intense one, just enough as to not walk blindly. Airún and Xarin did not accompany them; Dujal asked them to go back to the laundry and get hold of a basket the adequate size


As you can see, it would have been just as easy to reproduce the moment when he turns to the two girls and asks them to go to the laundry, and then get into the tunnel with Yirkash; but the way it is, you imagine the four of them walking along the tunnel, and suddenly the narrator tells you that two of them aren't actually there. That's confusing as you have to remake the image in your mind. More importantly: in this part of the story, Dujal is growing into a different person; showing how he's capable of taking the lead and gets obeyed, would've been great.


The other drawback is exposition. This happens when the author gets down to EXPLAINING something, which is usually unnecessary and boring. It happens very little in Court of Mirrors, but even so, there it is. For example: 


«After Martín took Musaraña away, Nicasia locked herself in her workshop. For two days, everything was calm in the Coalyard. No more fights, arguments or threats, no more humiliations or insults and no one cried. Costurina was so brittle that she felt like throwing dishes against the walls and starting to yell. That calm got on her nerves.»


And this, ladies and gentlemen, wasn't necessary at all. We'd already understood that Costurina was in a bad mood because of the silence, and, still worse, the effect caused by the contrast between the absence of noise and Costurina's state was simply great, until we got it explained. It's like explaining a joke after telling it (ooooh LOL, I'm doing it too). Just in case the reader didn't understand. It's a minor problem here, as it's a very short example, and you won't find another in pages; I've read books which were all exposition, because, you know: us, readers, are jackass and need everything crystal clear. Just in case, as I said.


Please, writer, explain yourself!

Another issue is that there are like three or four confusing moments because of problems with the referent. I mean: you don't know which character's doing something because it's not clear. I'll show you: 

«Marsias grimaced with false annoyance and took her by the waist. Nicasia didn't resist more than the usual, so (...) decided to kiss (his/her) neck.»


Perhaps I had some mental fog when I first read this, as the second time it's quite clear that it's Marsias who decides to kiss Nicasia, not otherwise. Anyway, let me explain this a little bit: in Spanish, we don't need to use the subject in all our sentences, as long as it's clear who's performing the action. In this excerpt, for instance, using the pronoun «he» where I've put the ellipsis (...) would have sounded unnatural, so, there's no subject at all, but since we have two characters in the paragraph doing things, we don't know who takes that action of kissing the other: Marsias because he sees that Nicasia isn't complaining (for once in her life), or Nicasia because Marsias has taken her by the waist and she feels that she can't resist him. As I said: it's confusing and needs a second reading, and this DOES interrupt the reading flow. Let me give you one more example; we have Eleazar drawing a picture, and his grandson arrives:

«Rashid left the letter on the table and admired his grandfather's drawing. If he saw the stain, he had the grace to ignore it. (He) wet the brush in watery ink and sketched some clouds on the papery sky.»


The first thing you think there is: it was Eleazar who was drawing, but now, Rashid has drawn something on his grandfather's picture??? A second reading tells you that, well, yes, it must have been him (even if it's strange and, had I been Eleazar, I would have cut Rashid's hand into very small pieces). This inconvenient is rather small in this book; in other novels, I've found this kind of error jumping from one paragraph to the other; that IS tough!


Let's finish the drawbacks with a couple of notes: there are some commas missing at odd places (then(,) he looked at her), and three or four missing accents (essential in Spanish). I consider this to be because of the edition; perhaps, a second one will need some revision to make up for these little errors. And one thing I would have appreciated: a bit of differentiation between the physical appearances of the different races of fairies; although, without long, boring descriptions, we get to find out what the main characters look like, so, no problem there. 


This is one of the BEST things about Concepción's writing: she doesn't tell, she shows, and does it very well. There are many examples of glorious descriptions. For instance:


«Dujal was undeniably attractive:  his black hair, wild and messy, that nearly covered a pair of cat-like ears, always restless; the emerald gaze, full of promises; the slim and elastic body. He had that air of harmless rogue capable of taking you away to live all kinds of adventures. And it was true, only that when you got to know him, you found out that he was really a rogue, that he was all but harmless, and that his adventures rarely ended up well for his partners.»


No verb to be in the physical description, no «his ears were restless» or «his eyes were green and promising». Dujal's attributes are not only colorful, they do things; they are as dynamic as a character should be. We have many descriptions like this one throughout the book, and they add VIVIDNESS to the narration. Another example, this time with Mesalina:

Hey, what's up? I'm the beautiful Mesalina. (Actually, this one seems to be Una)
Got this image from http://islander-60.deviantart.com/art/Una-the-satyr-bard-106495421


«her hair fell down to her waist, a cascade of curly fire.»



Can you figure out Mesalina's hair color? Can you? 


As to Nicasia, we find out what she's like seeing her do things or through other character's eyes, like when we're told that everybody says about her that she's a hag, or when we read: «That evening(,) she got into her studio humming, took off her gloves, hang her jacket in the coat stand next to the mirror, threw the braces onto a chair and got comfortable on her old armchair. She breathed a sigh of relief when she(,) at last(,) could take off her orthopedic leg and send her shoes flying away from her.»


Through the way she speaks, for instance, we know that she's foul-mouthed and quite thug. For example, Mesalina tells her: «I find it hard to think that my uncle is dear for you», and Nicasia answers: «Yes, thinking is hard. Don't get tired (...)». LOL! And she's got many like this one. Nicasia's the kind of person that would be making me laugh over and over again in real life with the way she speaks and the things she does. When she realizes Dujal has entered her studio without permission, the first thing she does is pick up her blunderbuss! We also find out that she (little spoiler) is the owner of the Coalyard, the tavern, because the narrator says that everybody knows what a hag the owner of the Coalyard is.

The author not only masters what she shows us and how, but also what she doesn't (and, again, how). This is called silence, and adds to the narrative tension. We have a handful of examples throughout the story that help Nicasia keep her secrets concerning her real identity. In a conversation, Boros asks «Who? Who bled here?» Nicasia: «I did». But we don't know why or what happened. Another conversation. Boros: «Why don't you want them to come to this place?» Nicasia: «Because somebody I cared for died here». Boros: «Who?» Nicasia, again: «I did»


Also, the magic in this book is incredibly imaginative, as every character carries out a different type; it's totally flexible. Nicasia, for instance, does things like: «Nicasia joined her right index and middle fingers, raised her hand towards Musaraña, and pulled on the air. Musaraña felt a claw pulling the words out of her throat.» Or, for example, Isma'il and his tattoos: «Isma'il offered a toast and put the glass to his lips without trying the drink. Soft whispers were slipping through his ears and sliding along his arm like a silky snake. He ordered them to make his drink disappear (...)».


Lastly, there are so many things that grabbed my attention, that I can hardly offer any without getting boring, but, there I go: 

«The snake boy, like worst fears, was only visible in the dark»


«Nicasia's heart was in her mouth, and he could hear it». 


«In the room, the darkness was so thick that she thought she was diving inside a jar of black ink». 


«(LadyBlackbird had) clean sheets for the bedroom and black words for the Counsel».


Or this wonderful synesthesia: «her fingers ran the edges of the scar that had started all that story; it was a tired gesture, with smell of defeat». 


All these resources and figures of speech make the book simply vivid and pleasurable to read. The language is so neat and meaningful that it builds up an incredible place to live full of great people to spend your time with. As I was saying at the start, I'd love to get back to EarthBorder and find out what else happens to these characters, because, even if the story offers a closed ending, there are a couple of plots that could continue into a new story. If you're demanding readers, you can trust this novel won't disappoint you. If you're also a writer struggling to learn, pay attention to everything I've pointed out.


My MiniMe's reaction for this read is total happiness:



If you'd like to find out more about this author or get to know her a little bit better, you can find her on youtube, in her channel Factoría de Autores (Factory of Authors, maybe???) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OlNXscZFS8 
Obviously, she speaks Spanish, and from the south of Spain, not a neutral one (I like it, but it might sound more difficult to students of our language), but if you're curious, there she is.

Now, if somebody has any suggestions about language that I've misused (I'm extremely bad at prepositions, for instance), or whatever, your comments will be more than welcome. 


Remember that, should you wish for an analysis of this type on your own work, just send me a sample chapter and I'll give you some suggestions on what you should stop or keep doing. If you'd like me to analyze a whole novel, we'll have to talk about the conditions, as that takes a longer time. 


I hope it won't take me so long to finish my next read and post. I've already set my eyes on a new book that was released here in Spain very little ago, though I'm not sure if I'll be doing that one. I'm also thinking of analyzing a book a read some time ago and I loved (and still love): Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. We'll see.


And remember: if you don't like it, you don't have to make it through to the end! Take care!

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