Review of THE PILLARS OF THE WORLD by ANNE BISHOP
(first in the TIR ALAINN trilogy)
So far, I've adored everything I've ever read by Anne Bishop and only her TIR ALAINN trilogy remained on my to-read list. It far exceeded even my high expectations! The story grabbed my complete attention early on and wouldn't release me. I tore through all three books in about five days (already busy days at that).
I never read the description of this series; I bought all three books simply because Anne Bishop has wowed me every time. So it pleasantly surprised me when I realized the story deals with the Fae, some of my favorite fantastical material. Bishop's take on the Fae hits that right balance of unique but familiar. Certain themes carry through many fairy stories, but Bishop makes these characters and their world her own. For a short description: the Fae live in their own beautiful, magical world called Tir Alainn with bridges between clans as well as the human world, which they only consider worthy of the occasional novelty visit, often in search of human play things. However, those bridges are fading, cutting Tir Alainn off from the human world and sometimes from each other. They don't understand why, but human witches like Ari might hold the answer.
What I've read of Bishop so far frequently fixates on gender and this trilogy follows that trend. However, rather than the more common dynamic in literature of an already male-dominated society that persecutes women, the females in this world are originally recognized as equals until an antagonist comes along who intends to change that.
I'm not a big fan of love triangles, mostly because I consider them easy drama and they're rarely handled to my satisfaction. However, Bishop can go on my exceptions list. (Also, I don't think I've noticed her write a love triangle in her other work, which suggests it's certainly not her go-to drama bomb.) The triangle in this book riveted me...however, perhaps not for the reasons one might think. Honestly, I don't think either guy is right for Ari and I kept crossing my fingers that she would wipe her hands of both and go her own way. If you're curious for specifics, Lucian has no respect for Ari and no interest in her outside the bedroom. As Fae, he clings to the belief that he's her superior, beyond measure, and she should weep with gratitude that he would want to bed a simple, dull human like her. Yes, what goes on in the bedroom is steamy, but I don't want Ari stuck with a man who clearly views her as a possession, to be discarded once he's bored with her. Neall, however, seems a perfect fit on paper. He's sweet and he cares about Ari as an individual. They've been friends since childhood and he always considers her well-being, sometimes over his own. Unfortunately, I never sensed a single instance that suggested Ari feels anything towards Neall other than lukewarm friendship. I didn't want her settling for a "paper-perfect" guy towards whom she feels zero attraction, either. Kind of depressing when the setup suggests: "You can have a nice guy or you can have one you find attractive. Not both. Don't be greedy, now."
I loved Bishop's take on the Fae. They're the embodiment of arrogance. This isn't a new interpretation of these timeless beings, (Full disclosure: I'm currently working on my own book that features fey with intense superiority complexes.) but Bishop hits the emotions smack in the bullseye. Such arrogance (and pride) could be the flaw that leads to the Fae's downfall. Not to mention that such characters serve as a metaphor for any human group that separates themselves out from the rest and looks down with haughty sniffs on "the others."
The last detail I want to mention is that Bishop pulls off one of my favorite twists in stories. Friends turned foes. It's not an easy turnabout, but the result is incredible when an author succeeds. It near breaks my heart when characters I've come to love turn against each other, especially when I can sympathize with both but still recognize the unnecessary or, even more tragic, unavoidable division between them.
And, yes, the end had me scrambling for book two.