The books: The Yarnsworld series by Benedict Patrick
The song: “Burn” by The Cure
Today’s books are the four novels that (so far) make up Yarnsworld, a series of mostly standalone stories set in a weird world of dark fairy tales and vengeful protector spirits.
Each book follows the same format: A main chapter about a central character, followed by a legend or tale from the main characters’ people, that relates in some way to the central plot at that moment. It’s a great way to provide worldbuilding without bogging readers down in infodumps, but it also requires readers to be intelligent and read between the lines to make connections between the tale, the characters, and the plot.
These are not fluff books, and based on reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. It also seems that the people who read the first book and loved it, also read and loved the rest of the series.
The first book, They Mostly Come Out at Night, introduces us to the Corvae, a forest-dwelling people who are protected from the terrible creatures in the woods by the Magpie King. Except the Magpie King isn’t as present as the people need him to be. A young villager, Lonan, dreams of the Magpie King, and realizes he needs to step up to become the protector his people need, despite the horrible price he will have to pay.
The second book, Where the Waters Turn Black, tells the story of Kaimana, an ocarina player who lives on the islands of the Crescent Atoll. When she befriends a taniwha, a huge monster, she at first does so as a way to write an epic song that will bring her fame. But when she has to seek help from her capricious gods to save her new friend, she must decide what really matters to her.
The third book, Those Brave, Foolish Souls From the City of Swords, takes us to the lands of the Muridae as we meet Arturo, a young man who wants to be a Bravadori: a brave, respected swordsman who helps those in need. But when he realizes that the Bravadori aren’t who he thought they were, he embarks on a journey with two disgraced Bravadori to rediscover the original meaning of the Bravadori.
The fourth book, From the Shadows of the Owl Queen’s Court, takes us back to the forests of the Corvae, where court servant Nascha has fled after a nobleman threatens to kill her for bastard royal blood. She’s aided by Vippon, a Gentleman Fox who isn’t who he seems to be, and Bradan, a young man desperate to get out of his father’s shadow.
Each of these books is dark, full of murder and violence and betrayal. They’re also filled with old, dark magic that requires blood sacrifice in order to appease the Spirits, who don’t really care one way or the other about their human subjects, as long as they’re worshiped sufficiently.
And the characters themselves aren’t full of rainbow and sunshine either. The main characters especially are seflish, each questing for power and fame, even at the expense of those around them. But in each book, there’s a definite arc for the characters, as they come to realize that there’s a greater good out there, and that they have to do what’s best for their world and their people, despite the cost to themselves.
And dear lord but is there a cost. Not to give too many spoilers, but these books don’t have happy endings. They do, however, have endings that are appropriate for the story and the world, and that’s one of the things I liked about these books. Not many authors are willing to give their stories an unhappy ending, even when that’s the only ending there can be.
The song that I paired with this is “Burn” by The Cure. Yes, I know there’s the obvious connection between the movie this was in, The Crow, and magpies, but it’s also a song about what lurks in the shadows, about losing someone you care about and then trying in vain to recover what you’ve lost. Especially for the first and fourth books, this song is a great companion. And it’s one of my favorite Cure songs.