The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier. ★★★
The City in the Lake is an original YA fairy tale. When the Prince of the Kingdom goes missing, the magic of the Kingdom is thrown out of balance. The disturbance reaches all the way to the rural village where Timou is learning the craft of her father, a mage. When he never returns from a journey to the City, Timou herself goes to look for him and the missing prince.
While I was originally under the impression that Timou would be the center of the story (and this still is somewhat true) the narrative is actually split between Timou and the Prince’s illegitimate older brother, Lord Neill. I actually liked his sections a lot more than Timou’s, especially in the beginning where he had immediate problems (the disappearing Prince) versus Timou, who was still having her story line set up. Even by the end, Neill remained my favorite character.
Other than Neill, there’s nothing else about The City in the Lake that I really like the same way. The prose is well enough written, but it took me over half the book to get involved in the story line. Partly this could be due to the slow start, but I think some of it also lies in how archytipcal everything feels.
There’s not anything about The City in the Lake which feels new. The setting is a generic fairy tale type, if well described. There’s nothing specific in culture or design to make it feel at all different from countless other fantasy or fairy tale type books I’ve read. There’s a city (the City, no other name), a kingdom (again, the Kingdom), an enchanted forest, pastoral rural land… I got the sense that Neumeier was using familiar fairy tale elements, but I don’t think she ever distinguished herself enough from the multitude of other stories out there.
I didn’t find the plot engaging until near the end, but I also felt like the ending was almost literally a deus ex machina. I also never cared at all about Jonas, Timou’s love interest who started getting POV sections about half way into the book.
I don’t think I would tell anyone not to read The City in the Lake, but I don’t think it’s a book I’ll be recommending in the future either.