A Book Review of The Butterfly Crest, by Eva Vanrell
A synopsis, excerpts from the book, and detailed author info follow my review.
What are the things that stick with you most, after finishing a great book? For me, it’s always those splendid moments when I feel like I’ve fallen through the pages and into the story itself. If an author is skilled at setting a scene and engaging my senses, I can almost look around and feel myself sitting within that space. And if the story has become a part of me—harder to do, engaging that sixth sense— a deeper reaction occurs, unforgettable and complete. Eva Vanrell might call that experience an impression, and that’s exactly what she strives to create in her work. “They have a lot to do with rhythm, tone and instinct. Very little to do with rules, preconceived notions or overly-worked designs,” she says (read more on her blog here), and she describes creating impressions as the cornerstone of her writing process.
Two distinct “impressions” from The Butterfly Crest that I think will stay with me forever were intense in totally different ways. The first was when the main character, Elena, visits a Japanese garden where mossy stones are arranged in a sea of white gravel to resemble a mountain range. Bright pink blossoms of a weeping cherry tree spill into the garden, like the patterns on a woman’s kimono that Elena remembers from childhood, and suddenly a flight of blue butterflies alights on the stones. Vanrell has already hinted at a deeper meaning to the butterflies that set my nerves to singing immediately. Another perfect moment occurs much later in the book and has more to do with imagined sensation and experience—that of a soul leaving the body, while that body slowly becomes numb and loses sight and sound. I can’t describe this last impression in too much detail, for fear of spoiling an absolutely sublime moment, but you’ll know it when you read it.
In order for us to feel the full power of these impressions—to believe them—Elena and her surroundings must be firmly established in time and place, concrete in our minds, and Vanrell takes the time to do just that. The story is rich with architectural details, historical facts, and cultural references; you might not blaze through the first few chapters of The Butterfly Crest, but by the time the real action begins you’ll be fully ensconced and committed. In fact, without Vanrell’s carefully painted reality, I would’ve been lost when all fantastical hell broke lose. The complex network of tradition, culture, and especially religion or superstition, she explains is integral to understanding the world she has created for us, and detail makes for a more rewarding read.
My favorite constructions are those in which Vanrell has mined the vast tomes of millennia worth of mythology and folklore, and then used her own imagination to make a real and concrete place. For example, the Faerie kingdom, Daoine Sidhe, is carved into the rock under the Irish Cliffs of Moher, it’s luxurious caverns so intricately sculpted and inlaid with dragonstone and jewels as to appear directly grown from the earth, rather than chiseled by hand. Elena plays a game called fidchell there with the beautiful but vicious Faerie Queen; the game is like a type of chess, with unreasonably high stakes and a corresponding life-size board, populated with enslaved deities.
The City of Eira, lovingly described in the teaser above, is actually part of Tartarus (the Underworld). And who could have imagined Tartarus to be such a wondrous, enchanted place—somewhere one might desire, or even strive, to dwell? That part of the story is so arresting, because there resides deep within the human condition both a fear and fascination with death. A hope of finding more within it. Vanrell pulls off her greatest feat as a storyteller when she allows her audience to fall in love with Death himself.
It has been said that all stories are, at their core, either about love or revenge. In The Butterfly Crest, that would depend on which deity is taking the stage, because we all know how capricious the gods can be. Sometimes the wicked ones are the most fun, especially the seductive and diabolical sun god Helios whose eternal fixation is the hunt for Elena and her kind (in a surprising twist of Classical mythology, Vanrell has us rooting for the Underworld, instead of the Heavens). Mostly, this book is a love story, though, woven into an epic tale of a human heroine who is more godlike than she could’ve ever imagined. I’ve saved the best for last, but the deathly handsome, exquisitely cold love interest, Eiry, is introduced early in the novel and he is a delicious romantic character indeed. He’s probably the main reason I kept reading, why the story unfolds in such a unique way, and why I am so anxious to continue this series. I’m glad Book Two in The Protogenoi Series is already underway, because as Helios would say, I’ll be waiting with bated breath.
Between the shadows of the human world, a war as old as time is being fought. Ageless pantheons scheme to obtain or keep control, provoked by the weight of human belief which has altered the realm of the divine.
An ancient prophecy speaks of a human woman who will alter the course of this divine war, a descendant of a Great House mired in misfortune and blood, whose history was shaped by the cruelty of the gods.
On a day as unremarkable as any other, Elena Vicens, a young woman living a seemingly ordinary life, receives a letter about a deposit box belonging to her mother, nineteen years after her mother’s death. When this letter sends her on a journey halfway across the world from New Orleans to Japan, Elena unknowingly comes into possession of a cursed inheritance. She is suddenly thrust into a world of myths and legends, where the intangible and the strange are the fabric of everyday life, and deathless gods vie for victory at any cost.
As allies converge to help Elena fulfill the prophecy, one of whom is struggling with his own inheritance, Elena must choose for herself the measure of her own destiny.
>>>The book includes a comprehensive appendix that can be accessed through the Table of Contents.
As the fractured light of dawn breached the threshold, two voices spoke in whispers in the fading dark.
“Are you going to coddle her the entire time?” hissed the female voice, the quality of her tone brittle and wispy, like the rustle of desiccated leaves. She was the Keres, the goddess of violent death, believed by humans to be three spirits but in truth was only one.
Death, her brother, sat across the room from her, holding a mortal woman in his arms. The woman writhed and twisted, struggling with the demons in her sleep. With careful hands, Death brushed the hair out of the woman’s face and then lifted his crimson gaze to his sister’s.
“Why do you care?” he asked.
“Because I do not want you to end up like Dionysus. She’s going to die just like the rest of them,” the Keres said.
“Up until a few decades ago, you were all certain the bloodline had died out. And yet here she is, the Heir of the House of Thebes.” The sarcasm was lost in the apathetic tone of his voice. Death brushed his fingers against the back of the mortal woman’s neck before continuing. “If I was a betting man, Keres, I would bet you were wrong again.”
“I am seldom wrong, Thanatos.”
“It is of no use to me when you are wrong at the most important times.”
The Keres hissed, and the shadows trembled in the dark. “I grow weary of this side of you. I have been asked to inquire as to your intent.”
“Isn’t it obvious, sister? I intend to bring her to Tartarus.”
The Keres laughed, the sound hollow like the rattle of bones. “Are you mad? It is forbidden.”
“It is the will of her father, and I intend to see it through. Tell my mother, we should not be long.”
With a baleful cry, the Keres was gone.
Author Bio and Links
Author. Attorney. New Orleanian. Lover of Cherry Ring Pops. Confirmed Japanophile. Dreamer. Sometimes Obsessive. Blunt to a Fault. Wishful-Thinker. Tea and Anime Compulsive. Diehard.
I live in New Orleans with my husband, two cats and a Japanese maple. 😉
In the beginning of 2011, I took a blind leap of faith to pursue what I loved most. The result of that journey is my debut novel, The Butterfly Crest. I am currently working on Book Two of the series, so please stay tuned. Feel free to follow me on Facebook, Twitter andPinterest. To receive exclusive updates on my latest news, sneak peeks and special promotions, sign up now on Eva’s List!
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