Book Review: Driftwood by Marie Brennan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1/Stand Alone
Publisher: Paperback: Tachyon Publications | Audiobook: Tantor (August 14, 2020)
Length: PB: 240 pages | Audio: 5 hrs and 34 mins
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Welcome to Driftwood. It’s a place where worlds go to die. When a world approaches the end of its lifespan, they are enveloped by the Mist, where they will slowly fade away to nothing as they are gradually pulled towards a central zone called the Crush. But while this is happening, neighboring worlds are also experiencing the same slow creep towards oblivion, and so are brought together in a clash of cultures and geographies.
In the middle of all this is a character called Last, known for being Driftwood’s most enduring survivor, who saw his own world disappear a long time ago. People like to gather around and tell stories about him, for his reputation is legendary. Some say he is immortal; others desperately seek his guidance or try to learn his secrets and follow in his footsteps.
And thus, we have the book Driftwood, a collection of these tales, all linked together by the remarkable figure named Last. At the same time though, it’s not your typical anthology, as evidenced by the strange setting, the subject matter. Each story comes from a different viewpoint and reveals one of many faces of Last, whom we come to realize is a complicated character.
As a huge fan of Marie Brennan’s The Memoirs of Lady Trent series, I’ll read anything this amazing lady writes. Needless to say though, Driftwood is a completely different beast. You won’t be getting a linear or focused narrative here, as there’s absolutely nothing conventional about it, with its abstract premise and complex themes. The individual tales are more like short vignettes connected to each other by only a few tenuous threads, with little rhyme or rhythm to them otherwise. And because of its nontraditional format, there is an overall feeling of disjointedness.
I’ll admit, while these types of books aren’t typically my cup of tea, there’s just something so artful and charming about this one that I just couldn’t help but be drawn in. Granted, I think knowing the storytelling style beforehand helped a lot, as I was braced for a weird and possibility confusing read. As it turned out, I liked Driftwood more than I expected, and much of it has to do with the breathtaking world Brennan has created. Driftwood the world as a concept is an achievement of creativity and challenges the imagination. The notion is expansive, but at the same time easy to visualize and understand. Against the odds, I found myself enjoying the hodge-podge feel of multiple worlds and peoples colliding, co-existing.
Of course, the gorgeous writing didn’t hurt. Brennan takes difficult concepts, presents them clearly and concisely, and has time to ponder some significant questions about social malaise, belief systems, and the inevitability of fate besides.
My only complaint? This probably won’t be too surprising, but at a mere 240 pages, there simply was not enough room to capture the entire book’s potential, especially given its fragmented structure. Furthermore, not all the tales are created equal, and some of the transitions are jarring. The world of Driftwood is an odd place and to a great extent you are expected to go with the flow, and so if you are the kind of readers to expect explanations and answers, you are likely to be left unsatisfied.
As you can probably tell, in the end I’m of two minds about Driftwood. On the one hand I probably would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it had been more to my tastes, but I was also pleasantly surprised at how readable it was, not to mention how quickly I took to it considering the lack of a traditional plot structure, central characters or a clear focus. I only wish there had been a little more “oomph” to some of the vignettes, a little more reason to care about the people and their stories. Nevertheless, Marie Brennan has created something special here, and it’s worth reading if you don’t mind trying something different.
It is too short, you say? „A magic tale is neither too or too long; it comes at exactly the right size.“ (Gandalf, LotR 😀). I‘ve seen that it is somehow a series and we‘ll probably see more of this wonderful world soon.
Concerning the Oomphness: there are connected stories like The Witcher with more action and surprises. In comparison, this novel is sometimes quiet, sometimes refreshing just like Smetanas Moldau; but it‘s missing the last part of it, some epic greatness. Insofar it’s similar to Gorodischer‘s Trafalgar.
I‘m happy that you liked Driftwood but fear that half your joy comes from the self fulfilling expectation of a fan from the author. How would you feel about it if you‘d enter fresh into her world just like me?
Well, Gandalf and I will just have to agree to disagree 😉
And I did see that line in the publisher description about this being the first novel set in the Driftwood world, implying there will be more. I hope so! I would love to spend more time to learn about the universe, and maybe in a format that’s less challenging. I don’t mind frame stories, but somehow something like The Last Wish worked a little better for me than this one. I still enjoyed it though, and while it’s possible I liked it more simply because it was Brennan, the thing I appreciated most was the gorgeous writing, and had that come from another author I wouldn’t have thought any differently.
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Thanks for clarifying 👍
Last Wish was nice especially because I loved playing the game. Without it, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it that much.
I see we had a similar experience with Driftwood – though I’m happy that it was still better than you expected, Mogsy! 😄 It’s a tough one, especially for those who’ve read The Memoirs of Lady Trent and came to it with certain expectations – do you think you’d read another book set in this universe?
Definitely tough! And yes, very different from Lady Trent. I think I will continue though, because I’m curious to learn more about the world of Driftwood. I hope the format will be more traditional though!
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From the other reviews I’ve read this sounds more like an… experimental book than anything else, and as with all kinds of experiments, it does not work 100% for all “subjects”. Still, it sounds like a challenge, and since I have not read anything by this author yet, I might go into it without expectations, which might be helpful…
Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Going in without any expectations could help, though the knowledge that the format will be unconventional will prepare you too. If you haven’t tried the author though, I highly recommend starting with her Lady Trent series first 🙂
I’ve always had a soft spot for short stories and anthologies, and but most I’ve read are collections with a little less of a common theme than this one. I know what you mean about them sometimes being too short and not quite able to fulfill their potential. But when they do, and in such short form, it’s a beautiful thing. I’ve yet to try Brennan’s work, but I mean to one day. Thanks for waking me up to this one.
For sure! I know the reason I don’t as much short fiction is because I usually prefer more plot and character development in my stories, and most anthologies/short stories just don’t offer that. But in the hands of a good author though, it can happen and when it does, I agree it’s beautiful! Brandon Sanderson’s novellas come immediately to mind!
I don’t think I’ll find this book engaging, Mogsy. I haven’t enjoyed books with fragmented structure in the past. So, I’ll give this one a pass. Thanks for sharing.
You’re welcome, and I understand! This was a strange one.
Since I haven’t read the Lady Trent books, I have a feeling this might work for me. I don’t mind interconnected stories and if the world building writing is good, then that’s a bonus😁
I agree, though if you get a chance, the Lady Trent books are totally worth it too 😀
I’ve read a few things by this author and loved her writing. I also own the whole Lady Trent series but need to make time for it. I got it for a steal on Book Outlet. Glad you enjoyed this one and the cover and concept are both really cool.
I remember getting the first two books in hardcover from the Book Outlet too! It was such a great price, and the books are gorgeous!
Glad you mostly enjoyed this one. I didn’t realize this was different stories that interconnected until one of my friends mentioned that. I’m curious as to see how I’ll like this one because of that but I have been hearing a lot of good things. 🙂
Yeah, it’s like in a frame story format. I hope you’ll get a chance to check it out, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts 🙂
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Hopefully I’ll be able to get to it soon-ish. 🙂
I wish I had read it instead, I just has such trouble with it
Now that I’ve read it, I think it’d be tough any format, lol!
The funny thing is, if I had any idea what this story was going to be like, with the collection of stories, I probably would have run a mile. As it is the author’s name was enough to give me a serious case of grabby hands and I just wanted it regardless. The writing is gorgeous, she is a master wordsmith, I can’t believe that she managed to pull me into this. and the creativity and ideas are remarkable. I love the fact that you can read into this one as well. But, ultimately, I probably would have really loved this had it been told in a more traditional style and I would read about Last if the author decided to go down that track.
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