|Written in a luxurious style that invites the reader to dream along with the author, this story is part fairy tale, part comedy of manners, part Edgar Allen Poe-like “mystery and imagination,” for Death wants a wife, and refuses to allow anyone or anything to die until he has his Cobweb Bride. The consequences are devastating: knights locked in mortal combat deliver killing blows, but their enemies continue to fight on and neither victory nor defeat can be decided; a queen is arrested in her death throes and cannot go to her rest, so her son cannot inherit the throne and take up the reins of rule in her stead; all whose time to die is upon them are caught in the grip of perpetuated pain; political maneuvers that hinged upon strategic deaths, or at least the threat of them, cannot be deployed; and to the consternation of all, it is discovered that animals cannot be slaughtered for food. Not that anyone will die of starvation (or of anything else), but the prospect of going without meat is severely demoralizing.
Gradually, individuals, families, and eventually rulers who can issue decrees all agree that Death must have his Cobweb Bride; and so, voluntarily or otherwise, maidens from all the affected kingdoms begin to travel to the frozen reaches of the north, where Death is believed to dwell.
Of all the travelers, an unprepossessing middle sister named Persephone has the ability to see the shadows of death, and she becomes the guide for the others, befriending several of her companions.
One of the most profound consequences of Death’s ultimatum is that a young man, driven mad by grief and rage, along with the Infanta who has barely lived any of her 16 years she is so frail, find freedom when they join the quest. Another young man must decide whether he will be loyal to an undead father who wants to thwart Death so that he himself will never die, or to the Infanta, who wishes to restore the balance of the world.
Many of the ladies who take up the journey are released from constrictions their families have imposed, and even though they are suffering from cold and privation, they find joy in this taste of liberty and the conviviality they find with each other.
I personally found the lamentations and repetitions tedious, and I would have liked to have seen more instances of people realizing, “Hey! I can do anything at all and it won’t kill me!” and having adventures thereby; but these drawbacks were more than offset by the pointed brilliance of some of the dialogues and conversations. The wry observations of the more intelligent court ladies and the commentary of a certain wise woman, the antics of the League of Folly, Persephone’s odd mode of perception, and the Infanta’s innocence that brushes aside pretense and penetrates to the heart of the matter, these are all wonderfully well-written.
At this book’s conclusion, much remains unresolved, and so the quest must continue in the sequel. Fortunately, the complete trilogy is now available in Kindle format, and I, for one, look forward to reading the rest. ~~ Chris R. Paige