Mandy Reviews: Karen Brooks—"Votive"

One look will steal your heart, but her touch will take your soul…

Votive is the second book in The Curse of the Bond Riders Series, and the follow-up to the exquisite Tallow (recently reviewed here by Cels). Votive continues the story of Tallow, no longer a humble candle-making apprentice hiding her true nature as an Estrattore, but as the unwilling weapon of the wicked and self-serving Giaconda Maleovelli and her nobile father. Through various means, they convince Tallow to become Tarlo, the most beautiful courtesan Serenissima has ever seen. And, the most deadly.

Votive digs deeper into the lives and motives of those surrounding Tallow – those who want her for their own devices, and those who want to protect her. As an Estrattore, Tallow’s very existence is outlawed by the church. She has the power to extract emotion from anyone, or anything she touches and distil those emotions elsewhere. All who harbour or protect her place themselves in danger of public execution – or much, much worse.

Karen Brooks is one of my favourite world-builders – that is, her words have the ability to place you right there, in Serenissima. In the first book, I was blown away by her skill and Votive is no different. But this time around, it was the characters that struck me, deeper than our last adventure together. I found myself whispering to Tallow, ‘No! Don’t do it!’ and begging her to watch over her shoulder for those who wished to use her for their own gain. Brooks has the ability to make you care for the most unlovable character, cry for the one you thought meant little, and despise the one you hoped would redeem themselves. I don’t think I’ve read a book with such a large cast where each and every character is pivotal to the story itself. The characters we knew, loved and despised in Tallow are back (well, most of them…), but this time with more depth, more substance. Like Tallow, Votive is written from a number of different points of view, just one of those being Tallow herself in the first person. In some books, this technique can get a bit messy, but Brooks makes it perfectly clear at all times whose eyes we’re seeing this beautiful world through. Every one of the secondary characters becomes more important as the tale unfolds; each one has flaws and imperfections making their motives even more intriguing, their fates entwining with twists and turns that are impossible to see coming.

I have to admit, when I read both Tallow and Votive, they took me much longer to get through than the average novel aimed at the Young Adult audience. But this wasn’t because they dragged or I didn’t enjoy them. Quite the opposite, in fact. I seriously didn’t want them to end. Brooks has built a world so magical, so real, it feels tactile; as though you could actually reach out and stroke the delicate fabrics of the amazing gowns, inhale the scents of Tallow’s candles and taste the blood from a crushing blow. At times, it was almost sensory overload, and I found myself placing the book down after only a chapter, needing time to digest the heartbreak, joy and gob-smacking deceit that flowed from the pages.

For those of you who loved Tallow… you’ll adore Votive. And, like me, you’ll be counting the days until book 3, Illumination hits the shelves.

Votive — Karen Brooks. (Curse of the Bond Riders: 2).
Published 1 June, 2011, by Random House Australia
Paperback, 628 pages.
ISBN: – 978 1 86471 943 7

  • What a review! Wow! i am very humbled and utterly thrilled! (and having a sooky la la :)) xxx

  • mdepierres

    stay tuned, Karen, we have another review for Tallow coming soon too.


  • That’s exactly how I felt about Tallow and Votive, Marianne and Mandy. I couldn’t bear finishing Votive but I couldn’t stop reading – exquisite pain! 🙂 Roll on, Illumination. Karen is a beautiful crafter of words.

  • Peter

    I picked this book up on a recommendation from a book store owner without realising it YA.
    While I did enjoy it, isn’t it a bit steamy for YAs or have I just lost touch with reality. Don’t show it to the literary police who banned Noddy.

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