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A Telling of Stars by Caitlin Sweet posted 02 June 2005 in ReviewsA Telling of Stars by Caitlin Sweet by Alric, Auditor

I just recently finished a complete re-read of Caitlin Sweet's debut novel, A Telling of Stars, and felt compelled to share with you my thoughts and opinions. Still, it is difficult to know exactly how to start and what to say about this novel.

The novel follows the story of a young woman, Jaele, on a continent-spanning journey. It is a journey of revenge after witnessing her family brutally murdered by a band of Sea Raiders, an event like what happened in her favorite childhood stories. We follow Jaele as she follows in ancient footsteps and as she adds a new chapter to an already ancient story of loss, war and revenge.

As in all stories of journeys, this one is not simply a physical moving from one place to another. Sweet has created a moving and compelling story of discovery, both of self and the external world, as well as it is an emotional journey through every imaginable human condition. We see Jaele change with each new experience she has and with each person she meets. Sweet somehow manages to reach through the page and change us a little along the way.

This is not a novel of high action and adventure, nor is this a gritty epic. The story is written in the form of a fable, a tale that intends to take its readers from one understanding to another along with the main character. The power of the book is from the magic of its language. Caitlin Sweet has written one of the most beautiful books that I've read in a very long time. The language is enthralling, poetic, lyrical. It is as if the book has been written as a verbal performance by a master storyteller.

A Telling of Stars was Caitlin Sweet's first novel, and it does show some of the expected shortcomings of a first novel. The novel's pace is very uneven, and while some of this is intentional, an aspect of this style of story, some of the pacing issues seem to be a result of storytelling difficulties. The first 40 pages are where it is most noticeable, and there are occasional times during the next 70 pages where pacing is uneven. The only other aspect of the novel that I felt a little troublesome was some of the ease of meetings and findings during the first half of the book.

For a long while, especially after my first reading, I was certain that the novel's characterizations were also uneven and incomplete. However, I now hold the opinion that the characterization is as much a part of Jaele's overall journey of discovery as the rest of the novel. There are only a few characters that we see real completeness too, though all characters have a kind of depth and completeness when they are on the page with Jaele. In the end, I think this was more a victory for Caitlin than the weakness I originally, and mistakenly, assumed. I have to ask her forgiveness for early comments in this area.

Ultimately, A Telling of Stars is a novel that tells its story through a complex weave of stories, of other Tellings. In this way also, along with beauty of language and vividness of image, does Sweet belong to a writting heritage that includes Gene Wolfe. The story is Jaele's telling, but her story is found in the intersection of the tales and stories of other people, history, unknowns. This is a story that depends on the power of the word, of memory, and understanding the connection between the two.

I highly recommend this novel to those fans of storytellers such as Guy Gavriel Kay, Tad Williams, and Gene Wolfe. Caitlin Sweet has a style very much her own, but she certainly can stand with that company in her ability to weave together a compelling, complete story.

For those of you interested in finding either of Caitlin's two published novels, A Telling of Stars and The Silences of Home, the easiest and most direct way is to order from Amazon Canada. The price for the mass market paperback copy of Telling is $11 canadian, roughly $7 US, with a very reasonable shipping and handling, with no import fees. I got my book in just 3 days, so shipping is quite quick.

Another option is to buy the book through the Used & New section of Amazon.com.

Caitlin Sweet's A Telling of Stars is certainly worth a place in most collections. The last 70 pages are amongst the most beautiful that I've ever read, in fantasy or anywhere. view post


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