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The Ill-Made Mute: The Bitterbynde, Book I    by Cecilia Dart-Thornton order for
Ill-Made Mute
by Cecilia Dart-Thornton
Order:  USA  Can
Aspect, 2002 (2001)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Ill-Made Mute is a first novel by its Australian author, and it begins the Bitterbynde series. This is set in a world in which humans exist in islands of population, surrounded by fey creatures, Seelie and Unseelie. The former are relatively benign, the latter perilous. Travel is dangerous, and it is particularly unsafe to be out after dark. By law, everyone wears a taltry hood, which provides some protection against magical unstorms. One especially interesting aspect of this world is the use of sky roads for travel, both in Windships and by an aristocracy of Stormriders.

The story's heroine does not start out ill-made, indeed she does not even know her own sex. She is introduced to the reader as a mute and nameless creature who flees and finally falls face first into toxic paradox ivy that creates severe facial malformations. She is taken into Isse Tower by Grethet, an old crone who dresses her as a boy, and sets her to drudgery. In fact, both the protagonist's setting and the Stormriders in this tale were reminiscent of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonflight and her heroine Lessa - though Dart-Thornton's lass hides behind her mask for much longer than her counterpart on Pern.

Our heroine has a series of adventures, starting as a stowaway on a Windship and including a pirate attack, a hidden treasure, whitewater rafting, kidnapping, banditry, and a terrifying journey through a mountain maze of tunnels. There are regular encounters with a variety of Unseelie creatures. Though generally shunned, the young woman finds a companion in Sianadh, an older man who teaches her to sign and names her Imrhien. She appears to have a sensitivity to the eldritch creatures around them and this saves those travelling with her on several occasions. When Imrhien falls hard for Thorn, a handsome Dainnan warrior, she despairs even more of her appearance, though he appears to reciprocate her interest to some extent.

Like Lessa, Imrhien's appeal lies in her tenacity in the face of impressive odds, which one wants her to overcome. She is herself lost, but struggles on and helps others when she can. Generally the characterization in this story is well done, with people who speak in a variety of dialects and are as likely to be prejudiced, stubborn or reckless as heroic or kind. Descriptive passages such as 'Out of the pale predawn light emerged the rim of the world, painted with the hasty brushstrokes of clouds' bring the realm of the Windships to life around the reader, though sometimes description is too dense and gets in the way of the action.

This first of a series raised many questions about its heroine and answered only a few of them. It laid a strong groundwork for the following books - The Lady of the Sorrows planned for 2002 and The Battle of Evernight for 2003. I expect that they will be eagerly anticipated by many.

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