This superb debut novel explores the depths of human emotion and family. Victoria is a troubled young woman. Passed from foster home to foster home until finally deemed a lost cause, she finally gains her freedom at age 18. But she is an emotionally damaged person whose only interest is the language of flowers, a Victorian construct where people learned to communicate using the meanings of flowers. Victoria’s journey through childhood, and as a young adult on her own is heartbreaking and fulfilling. Vanessa Diffenaugh tells this story with a mastery that is thoroughly rewarding. Picked up this galley at BookExpo 2011 and was intrigued after hearing the author speak at a breakfast meeting, but had no idea it would end up being one of my top books of the year. Powerful and emotionally resonant.
Like the bards in her novel, Patricia McKillip enchants readers with her lush, lyrical writing. Alternating between two stories, one set generations ago, the other in this world’s modern day, Patricia tells the tale of two competitions to choose the kingdom’s bard. The first ended in tragedy, and it looks like the second is heading the same way. Patricia is at the top of her game with this novel that drips with magic, romance, mystery, and history. At first I was surprised to find this genre title appearing to high on my list of top books read for the year, but when you’ve got a writer like McKillip, whose use of language exquisitely rises above even an admittedly imaginative and rich story to dizzying literary heights, it’s no surprise at all.