Details: (c) 1986 Steven K Zoltán Brust; Pub 1986 Ace Fantasy; ISBN 0-441-07181-3
Verdict: Brokedown Palace is a thought-provoking and original take on some fairly traditional fantasy themes.
Reasons for reading it / How it came into my hands: rysmiel gave it to me a while back.
Brokedown palace works on several levels; it's an exciting story, but it's also doing clever things on a metaphorical level, which gives it an impressive mythic depth. I'm surprised it's possible to create an original account of a youngest son coming into his powers to save the kingdom with the help of magical creatures and beautiful women, but BP really manages it. I didn't absolutely understand all the bits of in-story legend, and I'm sure some of the cleverness of the structure was beyond me, but the bits I did get were really cool, and none of the clever stuff interfered with the story as story.
BP made me think about all kinds of moral and philosophical questions, without ever being didactic. I really liked the way it plays with the building as metaphor for body, but the eponymous palace is still a real building as well as a metahpor. And lots of very thinky stuff about mortality and death and rebirth, though in a way that works within the story rather than some cutesy new age hokum tacked on. There are lots of references to traditional mythology, but they're very much in the background (and I probably missed loads).
The characters are both mythic archetypes and real people, and everyone is sympathetic, to the extent that it's not really clear who's on the side of "right" until right at the end. Because the characters are so solid, the story is moving, and the losses on the way to the conclusion really matter. The ending is wonderfully ambiguous too, and generally nothing is quite what the very traditional setting might lead one to expect. Some, but not all, of the narration is rather quirky, addressing the reader directly in a way that can sometimes be intensely annoying, but in BP works well to create an additional character.
A few little things I found fun too: the book is quite upfront about the fact that it's fantasy language is really Hungarian, and it even includes some linguistic notes. And just generally, it has a sense of humour which really enhances the more serious aspects.
Yay, lovely book, thank you rysmiel!