The Lady of Steinbrekka is a young adult fantasy about a twenty-something named Rhea who finds herself kidnapped and taken to a fantasy world run by a despotic king and evil prince. She’d been a grad student in “the real world,” and she was over-worked and lonely, her friend Matt having disappeared without explanation several years earlier.
When she arrives in the strange new world, little is explained to her, but she finds out that others have also been kidnapped from her world, and time runs differently in each place. Though the king did send thugs to kidnap more “Earthlings,” it was said that Rhea could never go back. I felt that this fact, plus the whole reason for the kidnappings, was simply taken at face value and never fully explained for the reader. Some of those kidnapped have memories of their former lives, but most do not after having gone through a demanding trial.
While at court in the new world, Rhea has to learn a series of convoluted and misogynistic customs lest she upset someone in high power (the king or prince) and get whipped or cause her life (or the life of someone close to her) to become forfeit. She has two love interests in the book, but there are no sex scenes or anything like that—it’s for young adults. Rhea retains her memories of her old life, a fact that she seems to have to hide much more in the beginning of the book.
What I enjoyed: I liked the imaginative world, and I liked the severe trial Rhea had to go through before she was allowed to join the court. I wanted more of that fantasy world in the book—the strange dream-scape. It was the part of the world I could most vividly visualize. Rhea has a talent for this world–bringing a garden back to life and surviving her trial while meeting several “supernatural” beings. I wanted to know more about the magic of this world and how it resonated with Rhea. This to me is what made the novel unique. There were lots of unique elements that reminded me of some of my favorite books: the otherworldliness of A Wrinkle in Time, the romance (though much more toned down) of the Poison Study series, and the unfairly male-dominated society of The Handmaiden’s Tale.
What I wished: The pacing seemed a little long-winded sometimes, with the descriptions running a tad bit long (but if you read my other reviews, you’ll see that this is often a complaint of mine when it comes to fantasy!). I felt the words could have been better spent developing more of the characters. For example, I never really “felt” the love Rhea shared with one (and maybe a second) of the characters. I also didn’t understand why the king and prince were just so darn evil. Some more fleshing out there would have helped make the world feel more solid.
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