Book review of Rin Chupeco’s ‘The Ever Cruel Kingdom’
Love can ruin a story. The emotion takes one or more perfectly decent people. Maybe they’re better than average, or have the potential to be heroes. They’re on their way to save the day, when…bam! Feelings blossom or explode, all leading toward the same destructive end. A character who loves tends to lose sight of the bigger picture. In an obsessive, all consuming attempt to protect that love, selfish choices are made.
Rin Chupeco’s ‘The Ever Cruel Kingdom’ has love galore, and yet it neither ruins the story nor sullies the characters. Though the main plot involves sisters Haidee and Odessa trying to save their world, love plays a large role in the compromises any of the characters are willing to make. The choices are never selfish or blind, however. In the preceding novel, ‘The Never Tilting World,’ it is established that the the world, Aeon, can be set right again with the sacrifice of Odessa’s great love, Lan. At various points in the story, Lan hints or outright suggests that they could settle everything if she gives up her life. Odessa obviously refuses this. Her insistence is different from other love stories because she doesn’t place her heart above all other obligations. She doesn’t refute Lan when the other woman points out that it’s not right to let everyone else die just so she can stay alive. Odessa, unlike so many heroines before and after her, retains a goodness and likeability because she tries to protect all of her responsibilities.
One of the most striking relationships in the book, however, is one that the reader barely gets to see. The bad blood between the sisters’ mothers, Asteria and Latona, is established in ‘The Never Tilting World.’ The friction is finally seen in ‘The Ever Cruel Kingdom.’ The conflict is heart rending, because the reader sees what they might have been thanks to the journey of Haidee and Odessa. Asteris and Latona’s is a tale of missed opportunities and misunderstandings, startling in its mimicry of real life when one wants to make amends but doesn’t know how.
The above relationships are just two of many, each touching on a different facet of love. All of these come together to make the reader invested in the outcome, not to save the world, but to preserve the lives of the characters within it.