Disclaimer: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
My copy of Golden Daughter, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, came last Wednesday. If you live in North Carolina, you'll remember that it was the first cold rain of the year, made more miserable by the fact that I had forgotten my literature teacher's porch didn't have an overhang, so my lovely, furry boots were soaked. I crept miserably home, determined to curl up somewhere warm with a nice book. But, luckily, I thought to check my e-mail first. And there, glowingly, I beheld my ARC. Eagerly, I began to read. And so we come to what you have been waiting for: the review.
Masayi Sairu has been a Golden Daughter her whole life, confined in an emperor's palace, where she learned the skills of intrigue, cunning, and, above all, protection. For as soon as the Golden Mother deems her training complete, Sairu will be married off to a political ally, whom she must protect for the rest of her life. But arranged marriage holds no appeal for Sairu, and when she sees a chance to escape the traditional role of the Golden Daughters, she takes it. Her new charge, the beautiful temple girl, Lady Hariawan, is a gifted Dream Walker, capable of exploring worlds far beyond her own. But an encounter in the Dream left her scarred, both physically and spiritually. And how can Sairu protect her mistress from enemies in a different world?
Golden Daughter is unlike any of Stengl's previous novels. For one thing, it takes place largely in the Near World, and there only in one region-- something Stengl hasn't done since Heartless. Although the adventures do bleed over into the Wood and the Dream, the characters have less knowledge of it, so it reads quite differently.
That being said, Stengl handled it excellently. It is, to the best of my knowledge, the first time her characters have interacted with a crowded city or travelled across the Near World. (I am discounting summarized journeys.) In addition to forging new territory, Stengl shows great restraint as a writer when she refrains from overtly referencing the rest of the series. A certain, familiar character goes almost the entire novel without being named.
So yes; Golden Daughter is quite different, almost disconnected, from its peers. And although I am sad not to see more of the familiar Wood, this forces the novel to stand on its own-- and, dear readers, Golden Daughter does just that.
Despite having more unfamiliar characters than I anticipated, I quickly connected with our three heroes: Sairu, Jovann, and Sunan (although I did not pick up on the allegory until deplorably late in the novel). In fact, I enjoyed all the characters... except Lady Hariawan. She set me on edge, and I could not fathom her role in the story aside from a focus of the characters' interest; she literally spends most of it comatose, emerging only long enough to make cryptic comments. Towards the beginning of the novel, I worried that I was meant to sympathize with Lady Hariawan as a heroine of the novel. I didn't sympathize with her, not at all. She irritated me by never doing anything, but her non-actions still retained consequence.
As events transpired, I felt more comfortable disliking Lady Hariawan, but even now I can't figure her out. After five hundred pages, I know precisely nothing about her besides her name. And because I never understood the motivations behind her actions, I lost interest in them. Why was she beautiful? Why was she silent? Why did she change? I still don't know.
Yes, it is frustrating. But remember the ending of Veiled Rose, when it seemed no one could possibly sink any lower? Or-- dare I mention-- the ending of Shadow Hand, that left me a complete wreck after finishing it? Although Stengl does not pull her punches, she always, always, delivers a great ending. Maybe not a happy one. But certainly never a pointless one. Although I didn't understand the character of Lady Hariawan, I trust that Stengl has more to say on the topic. Until then, I can only keep reading.
I am reasonably confident that I will love anything in this series, and Golden Daughter is no exception. I loved reading it; you should do so, too, at your earliest convenience. I would recommend that you read at least Veiled Rose, Starflower, and Moonblood first, preferably in that order. Because the series spans such a vast frame of time, it runs the risk of losing the reader along the way, and I fear that might happen if you read Golden Daughter unprepared.
To recap: Golden Daughter, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl, is an excellent addition to the series. Although quite different from the previous books, it retains her trademark wit, charm, and vision that leaves me speculating what comes next. I, personally, would love to see Imraldera again. Because we only get one character's perspective of her in Golden Daughter, I'd like to reconnect with one of my favorite characters, because I suspect that she still has some growing to do.
Reminder: the favorite books series will start up again tomorrow! In which book do animals talk, lady-librarians have adventures, and death and life clash in battle? I'll give you a hint... it's not the one you're thinking of.