The Scribe's Daughter, by Stephanie Churchill - a review

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The Scribe's Daughter is essentially a fantasy book, though without any of the magical trappings that you might normally associate with fantasy. The world is broadly medieval in feel, with edged and missile weapons in regular use, but no gunpowder or anything more destructive. Kings and nobles rule the diverse cities and countries of this land, which feels rather like Europe or North America without ever making explicit parallels with those continents.

The plot develops not by way of battles or magical quests, but by way of the personal development of the central character, Kassia. She suffers deprivation, hardship, and abuse as she tries to find out who she is, and why various factions are vying over her whereabouts and wellbeing. The political world into which she is unwittingly propelled is alien to her, and deeply uncomfortable. The unfolding storyline tells of Kassia's resolute efforts to choose her own future and lifestyle, despite the machinations of others.

I started listening to The Scribe's Daughter on Audible, but by about 1/3 of the way through gave that up and switched to reading on Kindle. The narration on Audible seemed good at any stage, but did not hold my attention. I found myself all too easily losing the thread of the plot, and hence becoming baffled as to why things were happening, and to whom. Reading the written word proven to be a much more satisfying experience for me, and one which made far more coherent sense of the book. No doubt some other people would have the opposite experience. The whole process, triggering such different reactions to the two versions of the same book, was very educative, and gave me cause to think about what kinds of books suit which medium.

For me, this was definitely a 5* book, primarily because of the world-building and the focus on inter-personal action rather than battles of any kind... probably some people would become impatient with it for exactly the same reasons. I am immensely glad I switched to reading rather than listening, and so persevered. The twists and turns of the plot, and the collection of environments and characters that Kassia and her party encounter, were consistently fascinating and well-drawn. My only minor niggle is that I would have appreciated a map - the whole journey presupposes one as a guide to the journeys, and it would have helped me to visualise progress.

I understand that Stephanie has written other books, thematically related to The Scribe's Daughter but not sequentially linked, and they are definitely ones that I will be tracking down.

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