Science fiction and fantasy
by Anne Bishop
Sebastian, Glorianna Belladonna may have bought the world a reprieve, but it's still under threat. Something is loose that could destroy everyone.
The Eater of the World sows dark thoughts in people's minds, changing the world into dark landscapes and revelling in causing evil and fear. As far as creepy bad guys go, this creature has all the necessary attributes: it's a shapeshifter that can take the form of a man, a massive sea monster or even the ground people walk on. It can get into people's heads and control their thoughts. Formed from mankind's darkest wishes, there seem to be no limits to what it can destroy and where it can reach.
So things are looking bad for the world, but an even more important crisis looms. Glorianna has reached the age of 31 without finding love, and she's feeling isolated. Her position as a rogue landscaper and possibly the only person capable of stopping the Eater leaves her with a burden she can't share. On the other side of the world a travelling musician, Michael, dreams about her. He doesn't know the meaning of the message in his dreams, or who Belladonna is, but he knows he has to find her.
Michael, like Belladonna, is also something of an outsider. He travels from place to place, playing music that changes things. He's branded as a luck-bringer and an ill-wisher, and he is used to being run out of town due to his unusual talents.
Michael's younger sister, Caitlin Marie, is also considered to be a pariah in her village. She's another who is isolated and feared due to her magical powers, someone who does not seem to belong in her current location. The need to find acceptance is obviously a major theme in this novel.
Belladonna gains more colour as you get into it, as we move through strange and inventive landscapes and encounter yet more enchanted and unusual beings. But at its heart, and in spite of a fairly high level of violence, this is actually a very domestic novel. The end of the world might be coming, but the main characters still tease each other about mundane things to ease their tension. It's a book full of homely details, of cooking and gardening and family reunions. This has the effect of completely taking the edge off the main characters, making them seem tame and human, and not at all dangerous. So the Ephemera books don't have that darkness that characterises other series by Anne Bishop.
The romance in Belladonna is also pretty one-dimensional. There's never any doubt about who will fall in love with who, and not a great deal of dramatic tension on that score. The theme of dark and light landscapes, and how they echo the dark and light within our own hearts, is another idea that lacks depth. At first it seems like a novel and intriguing concept, but the idea gets repeated so often that it becomes little more than an over-stretched metaphor, which soon loses its interest.
Glorianna Belladonna is a likeable character, and this story is an absorbing enough tale about belonging, love, and the power of stories. But it doesn't have the frisson of excitement and danger that Bishop has delivered in some of her earlier works.
If you like this, try:A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Diana Bishop is determined to keep magic out of her life when she discovers an old, enchanted book full of secrets and hidden text.
Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Anne Bishop