When I first spotted this book back in October 2010, it caught my interest with its gorgeous cover. Then I found out that it was recommended for fans of Jacqueline Carey (who I absolutely love) --- I knew then that I had to read "Passion Play" by Beth Bernobich.
"Passion Play" is the story of Ilse Zharina, the daughter of a wealthy merchant who chooses to run away rather than stay and marry a man she despises.
Along her journey away from her home she is robbed and made into a slave. Eventually, Ilse escapes once more and finds herself at the mercy of Kosenmark, a puppet master of a notorious pleasure house.
"Passion Play" is lush with magic and political intrigue, however, it lacks passion and excitement.
There is a romance between Isle and Kosenmark, but it's dull and seems to just sort of happen out of the blue. There's no tension, no build up. The relationship itself is a bit weird and towards the end, I felt unsatisfied at were the relationship was at. I forgive this, since this is a series, but I would have loved more build up toward the romance.
The world building, at times, is phenomenal; rich cities, various characters and interesting concept of learning magic all lend themselves to the unique voice that Bernobich possesses. However, there are times when the world building disappears altogether, seemingly forgotten.What about the magic? Somewhere in the book the magic aspect seems to disappear --- does it come back later? Or was it just a side note?
Then there is Isle. She's strong -- and all that she endures throughout her journey shows it. But at the same time, the reader is offered little glimpse into Ilse's character. All we see is that she is a spoiled rich girl who runs away to live her own life and then is disheartened to see that life isn't as easy as she assumed it would be.
Still, Ilse does what she needs to do to survive and endures horrors and comes out stronger for them.
Kosenmark remains a bit of a mystery.
All in all, I'm on the fence with "Passion Play". There were moments of sparkling beauty; Bernobich definitely has a great voice, but there were moments where the story was confusing, flat and dull.
However, it's the first in a series, and I can only hope that "Passion Play", despite its lack of passion, is a set up for a fantastic new fantasy series.