At first I thought I might take against this book due to its lack of any strong female characters, and its traditional take on an oppressive social structure (if you believe that a social system based on birth privileges must by its nature be unjust; but that perspective is hardly going to fit with any mediaeval style knights’ tale.) That is a sign of its age, maybe: a modern author would not (hopefully) assume that the female role is to fleetingly appear simply to provide the hero with food, and would have written in a female character with more agency. And oppressive class/cast birthright systems are rarely challenged in modern young people’s literature, or even fantasy.
But, despite those reservations, this is a story that resonates and grows better over time. Tiuri is a character who grows as the story progresses, and somehow has a depth to him that makes the reader fully engage. He is a hero, but a hero full of self-doubt, courage, and reflection as well as decency. He is reminiscent of Harry Potter in the way the reader relates to his struggles, and has a reality and depth that many more superficially written YA characters lack. Maybe it’s the sheer length of the book that tends to this engagement, or the limited third person perspective, or maybe it’s simply that we get to know Tiuri better as his character is revealed through action – which it is – but the reader ends up being deeply invested in him and his travails.
The writing is classically beautiful, the pace is fine given the length of the book, and the morality of the different choices Tiuri is presented with, is at the core of the story. Tiuri is a boy who gives up the most important thing in his life, the chance of knighthood, in order to help a stranger: and that is the beginning of his story. Who can not be hooked by that premise?
A beautiful book, in every way.