The Crimson Skew, Historical Fantasy by SE Grove
Series: The Mapmaker’s Trilogy #3
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
After I first finished reading, I wrote several paragraphs about maybe two things: how much I enjoy SE Grove’s prose for its own sake, and that this particular book left only a faint impression on my memory if any.
The Mapmakers Trilogy is ambitious. Multiple plot lines, histories voiced by both viewpoint and nonperspective characters, literal world exploration… Even the titles require some thought to get. Everything from the language to some of the structure of the overarching plot relies on readers being patient and intelligent. What a compliment from author to reader! Particularly in Middle Grade, where so many books are content to make fart jokes and tired puns. Grove’s writing is absolutely lovely, and the story is complex. Introducing Sophie’s missing parents in the first book and tying it up in the third is not unexpected, but the political intrigue took me by surprise. It holds up throughout the series and explodes into one of the most major parts of the third book’s plot.
Broadgirdle is still a scary villain, particularly when compared to real life counterparts. But he could feel a bit toned down due to everything going on with Sophia, Goldenrod, Errol, and the pirate siblings, as they follow Sophia’s Ausentinian map. Divinity, prophecy, and the like ballooned into major themes. …it could also be that Shadrack took the fore to deal with Broadgirdle, which is appropriate, but Shadrack never quite got past being a damsel in distress adult to me.
I was never a fan of the three fates as a deity idea, even after Sophia had her crisis of faith. It went somewhere I rather liked in this book, but it still has so little basis. This whole world makes no sense to me, particularly when held up against the originally promised premise. That was my complaint in each book–though sufficiently ameliorated in the second–and although I thought it would get better, just starting the third book sort of disappointed me as I realised I was still not over it.
Which is a shame, because SE Grove is such an exceptional writer! The prose is smooth, fun to read and quotable. The characters are even nicely diverse, which is something a LOT of authors fall face-down on when writing historical fiction of any kind. I listened to the audiobook for some of my reading experience, and the narrator actually gave relevant accents to all of the characters. That’s rather a big deal. I mean, Kathryne Kennedy wrote Regency Romance with sorcery in it and I don’t think she took the opportunity to insert characters of colour. (maybe I’m wrong, my memory is so cursed at present, ugh…still.)
There’s a big courtroom scene for Broadgirdle to have his day in, and I remember the drama of the moment, but I feel like it didn’t go far enough. Again, I admit to forgetting most of the book right after reading, but I swear I went back and reread this scene. It seems an important bone to the skeletal structure of the ending, and I just wasn’t… what’s the word? Impressed? Satisfied? There’s definitely a cheery tone to the rest of the ending that is more optimistic than I expected, but that fits the main character and while I didn’t expect it, I can’t say it surprised me. Whenever war is part of the narrative for a younger audience, optimism reigns. In a weird way.
But aside from that moment with the bad guy, I think everything came together to make for a great wrap-up.
I’d go into more details, but whether it’s pregnancy brain, reading over too many days, or just sort of falling out of interest, no amount of trying and typing my thoughts is helping me recall much more than: Good Ending. Would recommend to anyone who enjoys artistry of language, adventure, exploration, and intrepid heroines.