Review: Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone

Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone
Fantasy released by Henry Holt and Co. on September 28, 2021

Lakesedge by Lyndall Clipstone book coverA lush, gothic fantasy from debut author Lyndall Clipstone about monsters and magic, set on the banks of a cursed lake, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Brigid Kemmerer.

When Violeta Graceling and her younger brother Arien arrive at the haunted Lakesedge estate, they expect to find a monster. Leta knows the terrifying rumors about Rowan Sylvanan, who drowned his entire family when he was a boy. But neither the estate nor the monster are what they seem.

As Leta falls for Rowan, she discovers he is bound to the Lord Under, the sinister death god lurking in the black waters of the lake. A creature to whom Leta is inexplicably drawn… Now, to save Rowan—and herself—Leta must confront the darkness in her past, including unraveling the mystery of her connection to the Lord Under.

If what you are looking for is a fantasy with romantic and gothic elements, then this is the book for you. It does end on a cliff hanger, and there are descriptions of child abuse and a lot of blood, so keep that in mind. The main characters are Violeta and Rowan, though this book is narrated from Violeta’s point of view. The romance is only part of the conflict driving this book. Violeta is driven to protect her younger brother from his out of control magic, from their adoptive mother who sees that magic as dangerous and evil, and from anything else she sees as wanting to harm him. That motivation is what drives this book for the most part. Rowan is a good example of a tortured hero, who is trying to make up for his past mistakes by trying to save the world.

This novel is set in a world with magic. There is a religion, with a goddess who reigns over nature and life; the characters call her Lady most of the time. And there is the Lord Under, who reigns over death and possibly bargains. There are alchemists, who wield magic by drawing symbols, known as sigils, as well as making various concoctions. We don’t spend a lot of time on alchemists and what they are capable of doing, even though Violeta’s brother–Arien–is an alchemist.

Violeta spends most of the book taking everything onto herself. She tries to get her adoptive mother’s attention so that Arien will be spared. It doesn’t quite work. Violeta prizes family–the family she lost as a child and the one she slowly makes with Arien, Rowan and the other characters living at Rowan’s estate. When she realizes that she could have the power to end all the bad things Rowan is facing, she takes that on herself. While she does allow Arien and other characters to help, it never really becomes teamwork, because ultimately she takes all the risks, and she can only imagine solutions that require her total sacrifice–no one else’s. This pattern became evident I think by the middle of the book, and even though other characters tried to nudge her towards making decisions as a team, she could never break that pattern. By the end of the book, this became frustrating for me to read. Which is how I learned that I am no longer wholly interested in a singular hero narrative.

We only know Rowan through Violeta’s eyes. This makes explaining his motivations a bit tricky, because we don’t learn them in full until about the middle of the book, which places them firmly in spoiler territory. He is a young man with very few choices left to him, stuck trying to stop a bargain that went very wrong. I think he admires Violeta for her dedication to her brother, and that slowly grows into love for her.

This book didn’t entirely work for me partly because I’m not always a fan of gothic elements in my fantasy, and because if I notice a pattern and don’t have a good reason for why it must continue to play out in a book, I get frustrated. This is not just referring to Violeta’s behavior described above. [The Lord Under is summoned repeatedly by Rowan and Violeta, and yet no one seems to ever consider summoning the Lady, or asking for her intercession and I have no idea why.]

I’m hopeful that there is a sequel to this book, because I am not entirely comfortable with how this book ended.

Grade: B-

You can buy a copy here.

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