Author: Rachel Neumier.
Long ago the Kieba, last goddess in the world, raised up her mountain in the drylands of Carastind. Ever since then she has dwelled and protected the world from unending plagues and danger…
Gulien Madalin, heir to the throne of Carastind, finds himself more interested in ancient history than the tedious business of government and watching his father rule. But Gulien suspects that his father has offended the Kieba so seriously that she has withdrawn her protection from the kingdom. Worse, he fears that Carastind’s enemies suspect this as well.
Then he learns that he is right. And invasion is imminent.
Meanwhile Gulien’s sister Oressa has focused on what’s important: avoiding the attention of her royal father while keeping track of all the secrets at court. But when she overhears news about the threatened invasion, she’s shocked to discover what her father plans to give away in order to buy peace.
But Carastind’s enemies will not agree to peace at any price. They intend to not only conquer the kingdom, but also cast down the Kieba and steal her power. Now, Gulien and Oressa must decide where their most important loyalties lie, and what price they are willing to pay to protect the Kieba, their home, and the world.
Hm. The Mountain of Kept Memory left me with fairly mixed feelings. I think I’ll break it down into the good, the bad, and the… confusing.
First: the good.
Characterization! I loved basically all the characters. Not all for themselves, of course- the King is dreadful. On the other hand, I knew I’d like Oressa by the second page. Who doesn’t like the princess who: knows all the secret passages, hides under the throne to find out her future (! Tuesdays in the Tower, anyone?), basically goes rockclimbing across her own palace? But even aside from their personalities, the characters were nuanced and layered. The shifting play of power dynamics is fascinating for us nerds as the conqueror and conquered switch places multiple times. Not in a comedic see-saw back and forth but a highly tense series of events that tests Guilien and Gajdosik, probing into the layers of their personalities.
Alright, the bad.
There’s only one book.
I know, I know, that sounds like a compliment! But it’s not so much that I want continuing story set in this world (although that would be nice), but that what story there is did feel… lacking. So much backstory we never actually hear and important rules that we have to take on faith because they don’t end up being explained. I commented on the layered characters, but there’s enough time spent on military maneuvering it still doesn’t feel like enough. Not that they’re flat, not at all, but that there was more to explore.
And last, the confusing.
The genre is… oddly unsettled. Is it fantasy? Sci-fi? Science fantasy? I started the book under the impression it was fantasy, but when giant war-robots came on stage I thought it must instead be Science Fantasy, as Andre Norton has occasionally done. I was half-expecting some reveal of further futuristic tech, or that the ‘old gods’ were really alien invadors, or… something. But, no, the story goes back to fantasy style and tropes- right beside giant robots and an overseer that sounds a lot like a computer. And I think this ties back into the backstory problems, inasmuch as we never do quite figure out where the old gods really came from, since they apparently weren’t really gods, and just how they got all this power. And spider-bots.
Sexual Content: Mention of girls watching guards practice shirtless. Girl has heard, in reference to a particular character, “that he occasionally visited a certain house in town, but didn’t bother the servant girls in the palace”. Brother asks his sister if she was dishonored (lost her virginity) by a man she was imprisoned alone with. (The answer is no.)
Language: 10 derogatory terms, 4 d***
Violence: Ships attack harbor/town; flaming missiles destroy the wharf, knock down portions of the palace, very nearly knock down one character. Off-screen a villain murders an entire troop of soldiers who surrendered. Character whips an intruder- something very like a wire whip, beats him bloody and near-unconscious. One character stabs another from behind. Soldiers set fire to a farmhouse. Multiple magicians attempt to conquer a magical artifact and have their minds destroyed by it. War automaton kills multiple soldiers with “flung glass needles”.