Jumpdrives & Cantrips


The Cipher
February 3, 2008, 2029
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

The Cipher

It took me some time to work up the guts to grab this book from the shelf. The back of the book looked so good, with so much potential, and a nice cover (the heroine eerily looking like Julia Roberts). It was that exact veneer of goodness that made me question my choice. I read Diana Pharaoh Francis’ previous trilogy (the Path Series) and the first book was very good. But with discontinuous characters and a storyline nearly at odds with the first book’s plot, the whole series fell flat about midway through the second book. So you might understand I have a little anxiety about the follow-through in the coming books in the Crosspointe series.

Even if the next two books don’t deliver, I can say The Cipher gives us a fascinating world with an interesting magic system. Lucy Trenton, a customs inspector who is a minor member of royalty, starts off as a polite law-bound character and comes out of the story as a magical wildcard. Her secret stash of ciphers (objects with magical properties that sometimes curse their finder) and ability to sense magic only add to the conflict inherent to her character. I found the cast of characters interesting, but found myself almost cheering more for the backseat characters than Lucy and Marten, the ship captain with a gambling problem and debt past his eyebrows–and Lucy’s main love interest.

The Cipher doesn’t really start off with a bang despite major events occurring within the first few chapters that stretch your comprehension. If you stick through the disorienting beginning, though, the book has several major turning points that help to maintain interest. Diana Pharaoh Francis definitely takes world-immersion to heart, which is a good thing once you find your footing as a reader. While the kingdom of Crosspointe is fascinating and well-constructed, the invasion of the Jutras is regrettably made into a simplistic moment of antagonistic contact with “the other.” This immediately dehumanizes the entire Jutras culture without giving enough context to justify why to the reader.

There are also some awkward moments; this is exemplified in a scene where Marten does something I consider unforgivable to Lucy in order to exploit her both bodily and otherwise made me cringe throughout the novel. The theoretical repercussions based on Lucy’s character only partly materialize, and I can’t fully believe her acceptance of him later in the plot. However, the ending point still leaves room for her secondary love interest, who is a much more engaging character. If the author didn’t constantly dangle carrots in front of me, I might have given up hope after this first book.

Despite the problems inherent in The Cipher, Diana Pharaoh Francis did a good job of making me ask more questions than I received answers. And while Lucy & Co. manage to save the day, it is a precarious rescue that I doubt Lucy fully understands herself. That is exactly the way to get me interested in the next books, and I’m certainly waiting for publication of the next Crosspointe Novel, The Black Ship.

Pharaoh Francis, Diana. The Cipher. New York: Roc, 2007. 402 pages. $10.99 (Canadian).

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