Posted on June 28, 2011 by Monica Valentinelli
Available at Amazon.com
The Golden Key is a dark fantasy epic romance that was written as a three-way collaboration between Melanie Rawn, Jennifer Roberson and Kate Elliot. The book, which clocks in at eight hundred and eighty-nine pages, spans hundreds of years in a duchy called “Tira Virte.” The sequel, dubbed The Diviner, is due out this August.
I called The Golden Key an epic romance, but I feel that might be a little misleading. So, before I go any further, let me explain why I put it into that category. At the heart of this novel, is the tortured relationship between two characters: Sario Grijalva and the cousin he adores, Saavedra. He loves her; she does not love him. Well, at least not in that way. She does love and care for him, but her heart belongs to someone else. The passion Saavedra feels for (and shares with) Alejandro becomes the catalyst for Sario’s demise. In many ways, Sario has tortured himself for a love that may (or may not) never be consummated.
That, in my opinion, is the crux of the novel. Dozens of characters come and go but in this novel, where elements of Lovecraft meets The Portrait of Dorian Gray, my focus was on Sario and Saavedra.
Here, the worldbuilding excels in a way that I can’t even begin to describe. The characters live in a fantasy duchy that has the feel of an Italian province south of Rome. The details are impeccable, but do not bog down the story. We hear pieces of language, we “see” the paintings these artisans create, we understand their culture through their marriages, deaths and stories. All of these things combined provide a rich tapestry that breathes life into Tira Verde and turns it into a place we might visit one day.
Or would we? Rich with history and rife with internal strife, Tira Verte is — in many ways — a victim of its own making. One of the first sections of The Golden Key sets the stage for the other sections and is, by far, my favorite. Chieva do’Sangua (the Blood Key) grips us and begs us to watch the tragedy we know is coming. Dark? Oh, yes. Delightfully dark. Here, that horror comes not from the environment or not from a terrible monster, but from within. This horror emerges deep within a character’s obsession to restore his family’s honor and supersede his own limitations to possess what he can’t have.
To tell you the ins and outs of what happens will spoil the novel for you, so instead I will leave you with some of my thoughts on this interesting and complex work. I feel that this was a story that could have been written in any number of ways; as such, I read The Golden Key because I wanted “the bad guy” to be punished in a terrible, horrific way. The years that passed by, along with the number of characters, didn’t mean as much to me as the core portion of the story. The Grijalva family struggle was interesting, but I wanted to see more of the secrets hinted at in the first section of the book. To me, the Tza’ab were developed so well that I kept waiting for them to return, to bring the novel full circle. With a novel such as this one, with as many plots and sub-plots as it has, I feel that every reader will find themselves in my shoes: you will feel so connected to the world, that you want to discover certain aspects of the story for yourself.
Who would like this book? Well, I mentioned that the story has elements of Lovecraft in it. I feel that Sario’s arrogance, coupled with his descent into madness, is squarely in the camp of “one man’s horror.” This journey is remarkably tangible and written so gradually you will find yourself falling alongside him. So, if you like cerebral horror that catches you by surprise, you’ll like this book.
What of the romance? As I tried to express earlier, the story is about two ill-fated characters who may (or may not) ever be together, but this book is light on the physical details. If you like historical romances where the emphasis is on the setting, I think you’d enjoy reading about the different relationships that weave in and out of The Golden Key.
Regardless, I feel The Golden Key is an extraordinarily well-written saga that you don’t want to overlook. If anything, I’d read it just to experience the artistically-based world of Tira Verte. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Review by Monica Valentinelli