Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Returning

I did something with The Returning by Christine Hinwood that I  never do with debut novels.  I preodered it.  Why?  Well, if you look at the back of the US hardcover you will find quotes by two authors who praise highly the characters and themes of the story.  Those two authors are Megan Whalen Turner and Melina Marchetta.  Little wonder I wanted to read it.  I can see why the book would appeal to these two.  Hinwood has the same ability to convey much with few words and create fascinating characters that both of them have.
It has a pretty cover too:
 
Synopsis (From Goodreads):
An intense story of love, loss and turmoil in the aftermath of war. A first novel by a uniquely talented author. Vivid, compassionate and totally absorbing, The Returning follows the fortunes of young Cam Attling and all those whose fates entwine with his.  Cam has a hunger, an always-hunger; it drives him from home, to war, from north to south. When he returns from war alone - all his fellow soldiers slain - suspicion swirls around him. He's damaged in body and soul, yet he rides a fine horse and speaks well of his foes. What has he witnessed? Where does his true allegiance lie? How will life unfold for his little sister, his closest friend, his betrothed, his community, and even the enemy Lord who maimed him? 

It is certainly a gripping novel.  Megan Whalen Turner also has a quote on the front cover which says, "Every detail evokes a fully realized world."  I would agree.  Hinwood did this in the way I like too, presenting it as it is and not explaining it.  It is rich in detail, tradition, and custom.  There is a sense that these people have a history that is bigger than them or this story.

The style of the book is unique and it took me a while to get in the rhythm of it.  The first eight chapters are episodic, a series of shorts on the lives of different characters.  If you are a reader to whom plot is the most essential part of a story, you may have a problem with this.  There is no plot or common action binding the characters of these chapters together.  The one thing they all have in common is Cam.  This is an interesting way of introducing a central character.  The reader sees him from many perspectives before seeing from his own.  The book is essentially about how an individual, family, community, country recovers from war, and all the characters play a part in telling that story.  I found myself caring very much what happened to them, but was frustrated sometimes at how the story moved around so often.  This also made it difficult to truly connect with or fully understand the characters.  The middle part of the book that focuses on Cam, and then Graceful, was my favorite part because I finally felt like I could settle in and get to know these characters.  I was a tad disappointed when the final chapter  jumped ahead several years and switched perspectives again.  Also that information regarding Cam was so light in this chapter.

I don't really know what genre label to put on this one.  The kingdom they live in is made up, but other than it's not having actually existed by the name given in this book, there is really nothing that makes the story a fantasy.  There is a religious system in place and the characters practice its traditions but the supernatural never makes its presence known in the story.  So, I'm labeling it as both historical and fantasy. 

Note on ContentThe Returning is marketed YA, but is one of those that could also be an adult novel. (I'm labeling it as both.) There is strong language, and, in the last chapter, a couple sex scenes.  I personally did not feel like these scenes added much to the plot or character development, but they are short (yet descriptive) and not a lot of space was wasted on them.

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