So, a while ago, I read Spinning Silver and remembered how much fun a good, absorbing, exciting, funny, well-written fantasy novel was.
This book is none of those things.
Plot: There’s an oppressive city society, with magicians on top and slum dwellers on the bottom. Our heroine, Sonea, is one of the latter, but after nearly (accidentally) killing one of the former with a rock that goes through his protective magical barrier, all hell breaks loose. The magicians want her badly–partly because she’s a powerful natural talent and if untrained might end up destroying the city; but also because that one guy she hit with a rock wants revenge, as he is a petty bitch. Her friends, and later, the weirdly-well-organized Thieves Guild, strive to keep her safe. But it becomes increasingly clear that she’s going to be found and she is going to NEED training, only MAGICIANS can train her, TrAiNiNg iS EsSeNtIAl FoR a WiZzArD.
That’s about the point that I gave up. There was no point to continuing. This book didn’t have any exciting action scenes, cool characters, interesting plotlines, or vaguely neat ideas that I wanted to continue, even at a skimming pace, to follow.
My problems are:
– Bland to underutilized characters. Sonea is an entirely reactive, rather than active, character. OK, well, she’s suddenly got an entire city chasing after her and she has no idea of how to use her powers. Well, she actually starts making progress, before the author chokes off that avenue, and she has the benefit of books, and the Thieves’ Guild is very anxious to help tutor her in whatever way they can. Would it have added characterization and personality if Sonea was someone whose curiosity and stubbornness refused to admit defeat or the necessity of help, and she studied away determinedly? Would it have added evidence to the idea that Sonea is Special, Powerful, and Dangerous if she actually made progress on her own? Would it have added verisimilitude if Sonea, at the very least, realized that the Thieves’ very generous help is going to require a payoff sooner or later and that she had better learn really, really quickly if she wants to retain her ears?
What’s more, everybody else is fairly boring as well, and when you’ve got a young thief-urchin, a wizard serial killer, a gay wizard so deep in the closet he’s seeing fauns and lampposts, and the freaking king of the Thieves Guild who runs an underground empire with an iron fist…that takes some doing.
– Zero payoff to a large chunk of the plot. Fully half the book is Sonea running away from the wizards. This isn’t used to set up how powerful the underworld is and therefore explain how much of a threat it actually is to the established government. We barely even get to see the government/guards in action at all–it’s all wizards, weirdly enough. We don’t become acquainted with the Thieves as characters. We don’t use the time to build relationships between the existing characters. We don’t even, and this is important, get any cool fight, chase, hiding, or suspense scenes. And, at the end, Sonea goes to the wizards anyway and it was all for nothing. Plus, at the point when it becomes clear that the wizards are tracking Sonea down when she works her magic, I started wondering why she was still in the city. Surely the Thieves have contacts outside who could take her in and hide her. That’s on par with, “Why doesn’t Buffy just get a GED and not have to attend high school anymore?” or, “Why not destroy the McGuffin instead of hiding it?” Or, “why is this movie about trade negotiations and not Sith lightsaber battles?”
– High stakes get artificially lowered. Sonea starts out the book convinced that she’s in danger of her life and the lives of everyone who helps or is even vaguely associated with her. She’s on the run for her life and everyone she knows or even comes in contact with her, anyone who helps her, anyone who cares about her, is in danger. She ends the book being pressured by a bully to be his student. She’s on the hook for perjury. That is not a good progression.
– Deus ex machina ending that solves almost all of our heroes’ problems. So after giving up on the first half, I flipped to read the end in hopes that it had something cool, exciting, or clever happening that would redeem the rest of the book.
Suffice it to say that it doesn’t.
– I’m favor of homeschooling. “Your Hero is in a school where they, wait for it, LEARN MAGIC!!” plots are just incredibly boring to me at this point, especially when your wizarding school is as incredibly boring as Trudi Canavan’s Magician’s Guild is. What’s more, having a hugely powerful but not well-trained character is a good way of making them, well, be both powerful and at the same time, handicapped. It means, while they are capable of doing awesome and plot-relevant feats, it’s also going to be hard for them to do so or come at a high price (also plot relevant.) Notice how many wizard protagonists are students or otherwise only partially trained? Notice how many fully-trained wizard characters are mentors or even just antagonists?
Of course, that would require that there be a plot for your character to be active in.
Are there good things in this book? Possibly. But I’m in no mood to celebrate the correct use of commas.