Details: (c) 1995 Sean Stewart; Pub Ace 1995; ISBN 0-441-00128-9
Verdict: Nobody's son is really sweet!
Reasons for reading it: I've been wandering around London, and the book I was intending to read next I don't have in a format that I can put in my handbag, so I grabbed something more portable.
How it came into my hands: Present from rysmiel.
I don't think I've read anything so utterly charming since Bridge of birds. I just wanted to hug the book. Well, that's not true, I actually did hug it, but then I decided it was the story I wanted to hug, not the physical book, because one paperback is much like another as far as hugs are concerned. It's packaged as a book about what happens after the happy ending of a standard fairy-tale type quest, but it's really a coming of age story. Mark is just perfectly the kind of 20-year-old boy who annoyed me when I was 20 myself by not having reached the level of maturity I'd expect from someone five years younger, and he spends the book getting over himself and letting his inner likeable bloke out, which is a really charming thing to read about.
It's not even slightly subtle; it spells out Mark's thought processes and even the psychological theories by which his character is to be understood. There are really huge hints when the magical bits are being symbolic of facets of Mark's character. And it's really obvious who of the people he encounters at court is decent and who is planning to stab him in the back. But even with that, there are some real twists in the plot and Mark's experiences seem as novel to the reader as they obviously are to him.
In many ways, it's a very vivid character portrait, though. It really conveys the frustration of not knowing the social rules; the narrative never mocks Mark and it's just the right balance of cringey and sympathetic. The depiction of Mark's existential angst and grappling with mortality is surprisingly powerful, too. And the romantic bits are utterly endearing but I could still taste just what it's like to be Mark and in love.
There were a couple of little things that annoyed me about it. It makes too much of a point of the fact that Mark actually thinks about sex! And swears! I don't mind either of those things but it's too self-conscious about breaking genre expectations in that way. The very naive socialism grates slightly. And it jarred a bit that the religious background is apparently Christianity even though the story is set in Fantasyland, but hey. I sort of wanted to get annoyed with the fact that the book is oh-so-edgy in having an explicitly lesbian minor character but then dismisses her feelings as just a preliminary to her getting into a real relationship with a man, but the characters concerned were just so sweet I couldn't hold on to that annoyance.
Nobody's son is really a heartwarming book; I thoroughly recommend it to any fantasy readers, especially if they need a bit of cheering up!