One of the nice things about being an author is that sometimes I get asked to read a new book before it comes out. That was the case with a book being published today, Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard. The book is published by Viking, my hardcover publisher, but it was my agent (who also represents Anne) who asked me to take a look at this fun and beautifully crafted new novel. It’s Anne’s debut, and I have to say it is really impressive. The novel is something like a Russian nesting doll: it’s a Jane Austen novel inside a Princess Bride type fantasy romp inside a much darker Tolkein-esque story of politics, war, magic, and dragons.
Anne is brilliant at creating the world of the novel—and she’s created everything: the details of rooms as varied as the sumptuous royal apartments in the palace to the simple cottages of the Wizard’s Valley; the landscape and geography; the costumes and customs. She not only gives us a world (something like medieval Europe) that we can see and hear and touch and smell and taste—but she gives us a thousand years of history leading to political entanglements that are imminently meaningful to our two heroes. And she creates a social order inspired (as she says) by Jane Austen, yet uniquely adapted to her own uses.
But it is really in the character of those heroes— the prince Corin and the commoner Tam—that the book is at its best. After I set Moth and Spark down, breathless from the pace of the thrilling conclusion, I had a long think about why I liked these two characters and their relationship so much. I think part of it is, as readers of The Bookman’s Tale will know, that I am something of a hopeless romantic and the love story woven between these two characters is both hopelessly romantic and romantically hopeless. But the likeability of these characters extends deeper than that. I think it’s that they are the sort of people that we all wish we could be. Yes, they love deeply and without selfishness, but they are also brave and afraid. They are practical yet dreamers. They are stubborn only in doing what they know is right and they are both willing to make supreme sacrifices—for each other, for their country, and for peace.
There is a lot in this book to talk about: dragon lore, a dying race of Wizards, intrigue at court, swordplay, weaponry, a mysterious murder, and the ordinary human process of courtship—with all its attendant conniving, backstabbing, and double crossing (though never for our heroes). But always at the center are these two remarkable young people—whether alone or together—whose characters and relationship draw us deeply into the narrative. Because we care so much for them, we care for everything else. Everything from the dragons to the politics becomes much more that just an exercise in world creating because we see all those things through the twin lenses of Corin and Tam.
So, on her publication day, I offer congratulations to Anne Leonard. I hope you will enjoy her first novel. I feel certain there will be more to come.