Tag: Fantasy Novels
Just because THEY hurt you…
Larry Correia writes a defense of epic fantasy, specifically: epic fantasy series that span multiple books and haven’t yet been completed. Just because you have been burned by GRRM and Patrick Rothfuss being lifelong procrastinators who may or may not ever finish their novels doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of other authors, with good books, with good stories, who ought to be heard and read but aren’t getting the financial followthrough to make it worthwhile.
Which is a good point, and if someone did happen to have a list of worthwhile epic fantasy novels I’d gladly check them out personally. (Larry does not provide a list. Without a list, I am not going to go swimming in uncertain waters, there is your problem. Quality control varies widely in the fantasy genre, and….I dipped out because I don’t have the time or effort to waste looking for the good stuff.)
Correia’s point being shouted from the curtain wall of the bastion of the International Lord of Hate, the comment section is the kind of special to be enjoyed with popcorn and the appropriate PPE to protect your eyes from bleeding out at the stupidity. (I ducked over to make this post at about the point someone says that fantasy novels shouldn’t be longer than the Bible.)
My reviews for Son of the Black Sword here. My reviews for Peace Talks here.
Books Review: Majyk Trilogy – Esther Friesner
So, back when the fantasy market wasn’t nearly as flooded or as particular about quality, Esther Friesner published Majyk by Accident, Majyk by Hook or Crook, and Majyk by Design.
I thought these books were hilarious when I was ten.
And since that really can’t be the only thing this review says, I guess I’ll start with the good points.
First, there are still bits that made me snort, such as….Second, the second book was a marked improvement over the first and third books (we’ll revisit this point under “cons.” I still sometimes wish life provided me with more opportunities to utter the phrase “It’s a deadly ninja throwing pun” (although I was very excited to get to use “it’s a pune, or a play on words,” not too long ago.) The running gag about the romance novels, and the bit with the rival authors being positively (clenches teeth) happy that there are more books on shelves, was pretty darned funny. And the initial appearances of the mysterious masked swashbuckler A Blade For Justice, which are played semi-straight in adventure-swashbuckler-fantasy style, are worth a snicker especially if you guess or already know the twist.
I will also give credit where credit is due to: “Your guardsmen have no mercy!” “They shouldn’t, I paid for them to have it surgically removed” and the whole gag about how the Guardsman Academy had courses on how to take bribes properly. Book 2 (Majyk by Hook or Crook) has a lot less of the flaws I am going to subsequently complain about, mostly due to the fact that it a) does have plot, b) has personal stakes, c) proceeds to resolve the plot and resolve those personal stakes, not always happily.
Other than that, though, these books just aren’t very good.
They’re parody fantasy novels, without anything of substance to parody. Worse, there’s no meaningful core to the characters, their journeys, or the story itself that could elevate it above the juvenile gags that comprise 95% of its content….and roughly 87% of those jokes are “the talking cat has a New York accent.” That’s it, that’s the joke. The cat is from New York. (It wasn’t particularly funny for the first three pages. Now drag that out over three books.) The characters aren’t allowed to grow or breathe; the stakes never become personal; no emotion is allowed other than “the cat is funny because it’s from New York.” And I like cats.
The final damning point is that at no point in time is the plot (such as it is) allowed to gather any momentum whatsoever. Any, and I do mean every development that might lead to action either on the hero’s part, the villain’s part, the hero’s party’s part, has to be stopped dead in its tracks whilst The Talking Cat From New York discusses what’s going on, what it means, what needs to be done, and what should be done, and why, for at least a page and a half, preferably two or three. And this absolutely kills the comedic aspect of the story, because if it at least moved faster, we could move on from the failed jokes to ones that aren’t so bad, until the sum of the funny bits overweighs the unfunny bits.
Is there room for parody fantasy novels that also take the time to skewer the romance genre as well? Sure, and I’d’ve loved to enjoy these books again.
Rated: Read Dark Lord of Derkholm or Equal Rites, they’re so much better.
The Lord of Castle Black – Steven Brust – Repost Review
TLDR: Even if this one is pretty good, I have lost all patience with the Dragaera Cycle.
It’s difficult to read Steven Brust’s books at all now–even ones I previously
loved liked found okay, like Issola and the very first Jhereg–because now I know the dirty secret. He’s not interested in his own story, his own universe, or making it all fit together. Dragaera isn’t a tightly-woven narrative tapestry, it’s a collection of very bright and colorful threads in a loose knot. Now and then Brust may tug a couple of threads taut, just to show off how shiny and pretty those strands are. But there’s no overall, well-thought out picture that can be salvaged from the tangle at this point (well, not without extreme and conscientious effort which I highly doubt will be made).
Brust’s interest in Dragaera lies in…I can’t say the characters, because he seems painfully uninterested in them, but he does like gourmet food, philosophical digressions (AKA, why socialism is good and mafia aren’t), and….I guess, Devera. And this is a problem, because klava and gourmand fried chocolate-dipped garlic and roast asafoedita-stuffed dormouse have left enough of a bad taste in my mouth that even after reading half of this book and enjoying it, I was extremely reluctant to pick it up again–and I still can’t bring myself to actually read The Baron of Magister Valley (AKA, The Count of Monte Cristo IN DRAGAERA.) Why should I read a book in a series that the author doesn’t even want to finish and doesn’t like any more? Why should I expect to be pleasantly entertained when that’s not the purpose of the story, anymore? Why read a well-written and enjoyable prequel to a series that the author doesn’t want to finish?
Brust does not want to tell stories about swashbuckling but hard-edged heroes, noble but ruthless warriors, sorcerers who are as powerful as gods, and gods who are as petty as men. He doesn’t want to tell a story of criminals or of empires, rebels or righteous war. He doesn’t really care about excitement any more, and adventures are downright distasteful. Much better to drink egg coffee in a corner cafe. His stories are the stories of an old man who shares little in common with his younger self (who at least tried), or with younger audiences (who came on board for the swashbuckling, capeswishing, rapier-flashing, epic fantasy stories written on a narrative backdrop that is a richly-woven tapestry, etc…AKA, people like me who stuck it out for fifteen books but have at this point noticed which way the wind blows.)
That said, and with it in mind, Brust is at his best when he’s riffing off a better author and doesn’t have to come up with those tedious narrative beats himself. As in Paths of the Dead, which I own but haven’t read in several years, this is one of those instances.
This subseries is a prequel to the main Vlad Taltos books, covering the fall and rise again of the Dragaeran Empire. It’s also a riff off of Dumas’ The Three Musketeers–D’Artagnan, Portos, Aramis, and, uh, whats-his-face, Oliver Reed played him in the movie…whatever–becoming Khaavren (the main hero), Tazendra (the dumb but loveable ruffian), Aramis (the sneaky Yendi), and…I dunno, the other guy. (WHAT IS HIS NAAAAME?!) So, I had it wrong, this is actually book 2 of a sub-trilogy within the Khaavren Romances subseries of the Dragaera Cycle. Eh, whatever.
The plot is: Khaavren, formerly the swashbuckling hero of a previous generation, has decided that he needs to get back in shape and take to the road again. His timing is good, because meanwhile, Zerika has re-emerged with the Orb from the Paths of the Dead–making her indisputably the new Empress. Problem is, there really is a dispute going on, because there are at least two pretenders to the throne, and they have quite a few more men than she does. (She’s got about twenty-five, including Khaavren’s son Piro). Meanwhile, young Dragonlord Morrolan has set up shop in a ruined castle and begun doing what he is assured Dragonlords do, which tax the local civilians and use the money to assemble an army. He’s got about three thousand soldiers. Meanwhile, immortal sorceress Sethra Lavode is…well, she’s in her mountain doing whatever she does that is of deep mystic import and is never actually explained to the audience. And, since this is book 2 of 3-ish, that’s about it. There’s a couple of battles but they don’t resolve the Pretendership conflict, and on the personal level, the book ends with a near-tragedy as Khaavren’s old-school values and personal prejudices end up pushing his son away into a life of banditry (whee!)
So the main attraction the Khaavren Romances have is that the writing style, as well as the plot, homages Dumas–that is, it’s wordy, literate, and full of narrative filligree and little stylistic flourishes which ironically help flesh out the world and the characters far, far better than plainer prose. It’s a bit stilted, but it’s charming, often amusing, (“Oh bother,” said Tazendra, “I’ve lost the reins.”) and sometimes actually quite witty. Actual action is treated in classic style: with many flourishes and little detail and as much posturing as is necessary to show our heroes in a heroic light.
The characters are less of an attraction, mostly because they’ve already been established and the narrative convention is to keep them on a bit flatter of an arc than we’d normally see. Mostly the only development is between Piro and his love interest Ibronka, culminating in a highly amusing scene wherein their friends basically lock them in a closet to resolve the UST. Morrolan, the second lead, amusingly gets slighted by the biased narrator, who regards him as an unsophisticated country (human-raised) bumpkin who wavers between dangerously airheaded and just plain dangerous. Needless to say, Morrolan’s actual actions put a lie to everything but the dangerous bit.
So, overall: this is a good book, and it’s part of a series that once showed great promise. Unfortunately, given that the rest of the series fails signally to live up to that….I honestly can’t enjoy it anymore.
Rated: One half-exploded sorceress out of…well…one.
Book Review: The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman
Well, as a dog returns to its vomit, so do I to this series. Thank God this seems to be the last one. I can’t think of another series written so poorly, by an author with such demonstrated and wasted potential, which I have wanted to like so badly. I mean, she was SO GOOD at writing Bleach fanfiction, surely that talent translates directly into the real world of real books with real covers and real sales, right?
Genevieve Cogman is not a good author of fantastic adventure. These books are ponderously slow, verbosely talky, amateurishly plotted, clunkily executed, and her characters have all the depth and warmth of ukiyo-e paintings, except without the craftsmanship or crisp elegance of design. And it’s really freaking depressing, because she had a bright, sciffian idea which would have made a really cool story if someone with actual abilities had written it, thought about it, and carried through with its possibilities.
That idea was this: incorporate fanfic versions of characters from other novels into this novel, using the justification that they are real people from other universes, recognizable because of their existence pan-dimensional Library. Think about it! Sherlock Holmes! Jareth from Labyrinth!….uh….some other characters from public domain literature! Like, like…uh….umm….the Disney Princesses!….I mean, not the Disney princess archetype, just a generic princess archetype that happens to not be under copyright. Um. How about a black guy being the police commissoner in pseudo-Victorian London?
At it’s core and base, this is supposed to be about book-stealing Librarian spy catburglars. Also secret identities, magical systems, and zeppelins. Also a horrifying and terrible villain driven mad by secrets from the depths of time and space and space-time and L-space. Also dragons. Where does it go wrong? And how can you possibly go wrong with dragons?
In so, so many different ways, but I’ll let my past reviews speak for themselves. This is the last book and the series plot, such as it is and believe me it is pretty damn weak, gets resolved.
So, anyhow, we eventually found out in The Dark Archive, that dread villain Alberich was Irene’s biological father. Or at least, his original body was. He’s an orb of chaos-infused energy bound to a moving corpse, now. Needless to say, this reveal was fucking obvious from BOOK ONE, but it still gets a full dramatic treatment in that book and into the next–this one.
Irene wants to do something about her father, preferably something that ends with his death. Also, worlds are disappearing. She has a series of conversations with people, and after about one third of the book has gone by, gets permission from the Library elders to covertly strike against Alberich. Also, worlds are disappearing. Another third of the book goes by, in which we learn that worlds have been disappearing, that Alberich is actually willing to talk terms with his daughter, and that The Library doesn’t want them to.
This is, we are led to suspect, because the Library doesn’t want people looking into the secrets of its founding. Also worlds are disappearing. How unfortunate, therefore, that during the past couple of books Irene has stumbled onto several stories concerning exactly that–stories of the founding of a mysterious library from both the Fae and Dragon point of view–and now, she finally finds out that there is also one from the human POV.
And it kind of matches what Alberich has been saying: that the Library is corrupted.
So a meeting is set up on a world that by no means has yet disappeared and absolutely has no reason to disappear and could not possibly be a trap by which inconvenient people who know too much are set up to disappear. Guess what happens then? No, go on, guess.
Anyhow, Alberich sacrifices what’s left of himself to break them free, and off they go again. Honestly, even with Alberich being as poorly-served as he has been throughout the series–and he was defeated by the heroine in every single book so far–he’s still kind of my favorite character from this series. I’ve always liked the villains who have, somewhere wayyyy far off in the distance, a noble cause or an ideal to aim at, but in the meanwhile don’t hesitate from saying, “let me be evil,” rolling up their sleeves, and getting to it. I also like family-as-villains (who doesn’t)–especially when they are willing to apply that selfsame philosophy to their family members, and willing to accept that turnabout is fair play. And, making your first appearance disguised in the skin of an enemy you have defeated and killed is kind of badass. Despite the fact that he was completely ineffective in each incarnation, Alberich himself is treated with enough dread and caution by the other characters that he still retains some inkling of menace–even when he’s just a walking burnt-out, dessicated corpse in a monk’s hood, which honestly takes some doing. Even the two-paragraph long summary of his fall to darkness and Irene’s mother’s escape, is more interesting and compelling than anything else in this entire damn book.
But anyway, with the series 95% done with and the person who has been the main villain of the series abruptly out of the way, we get introduced to the real evil behind the scenes. It’s as exactly as stupidly anticlimactic and frustrating as you might imagine. It’s defeated as easily as ever by Irene, and let me tell you how disappointed I was at that. I was even annoyed that Irene got a happy ending and her powers back.
How do you go wrong with such a provocative idea? Why bother to file the serial numbers off your Sherlock if you’re going to use him as a glorified doormat? Why pull Jareth off of dance-number duty without a long-standing sexual tension plot with the heroine (on the other hand, their relationship, such as it is, has the benefit of consistency.) Why make your dragons the epitome of stick-up-the-cloacaness and…actually, just why?
There are good aspects to this work. Beginning authors can read them and make careful notes about what not to do. (Hint: HAVING YOUR ADVENTURE FANTASY NOVEL BE ALMOST ENTIRELY DIALOGUE IS A BAD IDEA.) Struggling authors can find new strength in rage knowing that this garbage is getting edited and published instead of them. Readers can…read something else instead.
Rated: I really wanted to like these books! Goddamnit!
Shadow of the Conqueror – Shad Brooks – QuikReview
Enthusiastic, imaginative, and inept.
It’s a first novel, and it has the clawmarks of one: big ideas; enthusiastic, imaginative but vague worldbuilding; exposition delivered mostly through dialogue; characterization delivered mostly through dialogue; action described mostly through dialogue; and unnecessary dialogue pointing out themes and moral implications that have already been made obvious by basic narration or other dialogue strings.
There are also several structural failures: the main hero-buddy duo just doesn’t work (although the secondary one does, mostly). What’s worse for the book as a whole, none of the humor is quite as funny as it wants to be; the book itself could have excused a multitude of faults with a strong infusion of black, self-aware humor.
Continue reading “Shadow of the Conqueror – Shad Brooks – QuikReview”
Throne of Glass and State of the Author
Throne of Glass (by Sarah J. Maas): after having reached 78% completion, I’m confirmed in my opinion that this book is just bad writing. It’s the editor’s fault for accepting such a pathetic manuscript in the first place. There are multiple areas I can point out, but for now, let’s stick with the simplest to fix.
– It’s long-winded, it tells instead of showing, and this makes it boring.
The first chapter starts with our heroine being marched in chains up, down, around, and through the administrative blockhouse of her prison. She sneers inwardly, because all this means is that now she is very familiar with the layout of the administrative blockhouse of her prison. The author also uses this time to set up that: a) there is a prison, b) the heroine is in it, c) incidentally, the guy doing the dragging is kind of hot, y’know? In chapter 2 we are introduced to the rudiments of the plot, and, in a belated effort to tell us our heroine is actually quite awesome, honest, we and the characters are told that she made an escape attempt in the past, resulting in 23 guards dead, and heroine beaten to within an inch of her life, only spared because….she’s in prison to SUFFER, ON THE KING’S ORDERS, okkkk, sure. Our recovered heroine simpers (yes, really), internally seething, we are informed but unconvincingly so, with rage.
How to fix this? The author clearly wanted the “hero/ine in rags dragged in before the supercilious nobleman and thrown in a heap at his feet” scene (fine, it’s a classic); but also wanted to portray how independent and spunky her heroine is; but also hint that these are good guys (aka: they’re hot.) This is a valid, solid beginning to a story if you just break it down into tropes. Only, far too much time is wasted getting there, and once we’re there, it falls flat because everything is told rather than shown. Also everyone in the scene has a room-temperature IQ, including the heroine.
Here’s how Maas could have hit the same exact beats but in less time: the escape attempt happened yesterday. Twenty-three guards were killed or injured. The heroine was recaptured and beaten to within an inch of her life by those guards’ furious and vengeful comrades–only spared because they knew the Prince was arriving tomorrow and specifically wanted her alive.
Now you get the perfect excuse for the dragging in rags (bandages) and chains; now you get to show that the supercilious noblemen are actually decent by having them treat her with decency–giving her a chair, or water, or the personal medical attentions of the royal physician; and now you’ve set up the rest of the plot with your heroine as a definite underdog but with genuine badass credentials. It’s going to very difficult to win a tournament for your freedom against thirteen other determined killers if you’ve a) recently been badly beaten for b) killing two dozen men with a pickaxe and your bare hands. And it could all be done in ten pages or less.
The entire novel, as it stands, could have been very easily chopped down to novella or even short-story size, with a focus on either the plot (Tournament of killers! Competitors sabotaging each other! Competitors forging reluctant alliances! Corpses with their brains eaten and other tourney competitors growing glowing red eyes and ten pounds of muscle overnight, very mysteriously!) or the romance (hot prince is dreamy I hope he likes my dress, ooooh.)
State of the author: I’s tired.
Some have broken the bounds of the narrow land Laid open the book of dreams Drawn doorways in the sand walked through Shadow to the many worlds With fellowship and dread companions From the last castle to the Gaean Reach strangers and pilgrims in a strange land, progressing, our destination universe. The farthest star but a mote in God's eye. When the world turned upside down, through a splinter in the mind's eye, recall who goes there, out of the dark? A star rider on a steel horse, a rite of passage through abyss of wonder, shelters of stone to the starpilot's grave. // clan of cave bear to the lioness rampant I saw the doors of his mouth open and the lamps of his eyes shine. A final rose bloom for Ecclesiastes, and no night, ever, without stars. What's it like out there -- Skagganauk, or the space beyond, the birthplace of creation, or the crossroads of time? There is time enough for love. Soul music in a minor key, sung by no woman born In a many-colored land: red, blue, and green. East of Eden, children of the mind await their childhood's end. The player of games is gonna roll the bones. Computers don't argue, the right to arm bears is in the bone Equal rites are observed, And no man sayeth call him lord. There are Skylarks three in an alien sky; from homely house to lonely mountain the long patrol guards moss and flower; a stainless steel rat runs for president (to hell and back). Sheep are electric. The horse and his boy dream of dancing mountains. All cats are gray, walking between the walls To say nothing of the dog that bays with five mouths the fool moon. Creatures there are of light and darkness: When true night falls on the borders of infinity two suns setting cast slithering shadows across the long tomorrow. Ancient, my enemy, the old gods waken. Alas, Babylon! The city and the stars! Wolves across the border A feral darkness, the darkness that comes before, Beyond the black river. I will fear no evil, not the hills of the dead nor the black god's kiss, the wings in the night, or the red nails' gleam; Daemon, sidhe-devil, or devil in iron or the nine billion names of God, for the stars are also fire and the stars burn. Soldier, ask not of unfinished tales or a dry, quiet war. Take iron counsel of the cold equations. Till we have faces, lest the long night fall, Raise the sword of Rhiannon Set a fire upon the deep. More than honor, we few, Wee free men, the high crusade, Seek Armageddon inheritance In the service of the sword. Sleeper, awaken! from this alien shore To your scattered bodies go A citizen of the galaxy and not this pale blue dot Bid farewell again to the cool, green hills of earth I have space suit and I will travel The stars are my destination These stars are already ours.
Book Review: Elf Defense – Esther Friesner (repost)
Elf Defense is a 1988 novel by Esther Friesner that…technically…counts as Urban Fantasy. Or more precisely, Suburban Fantasy.
Amanda Taylor, the mortal lover of the King of Elfhame Ultramar (aka America), has fled from him along with his son, Prince Cassiodoron (and Cass’s talking assassin cat) and concealed herself in a sleepy Connecticut small town. Godwin’s Corners, home of quite a few Mayflower-descended snobs, a really fearsome PTA association, and more lawyers than you can shake a stick at, is surely the last place on Earth anyone would dream of looking…
Yeah, he finds them in about three chapters.
But that’s where it gets interesting for Kelerison, King of Elfhame Ultramar, because Amanda Taylor has availed herself of this new mortal thing called a divorce lawyer…
– This book is really funny.
– This book is really well-written.
– This book is not YA. This book contains, instead of hormonal teenagers written by a hormonal twenty-something, actually sentient beings acting in a rational manner. And, my God, was it refreshing to read.
– Slight spoiler: the characters are interesting and the novel is cleverly structured to a) slowly diminish the presumed threat, and b) subtly build up the ultimate villain with clever foreshadowing. (well…I thought it was clever, since I didn’t see it coming, anyway.)
– Shut Up Elves! This being a novel of the 80s-90s Fantasy Boom, the elves hit all the basic elf checkboxes: handsome, inhuman, glamorous, enchanting, powerful, manipulative…but, refreshingly, they aren’t worshipped by anyone, least of all the author. Cass is unflinchingly called on his bullshit by everyone involved, including the talking cat and the girl wholeheartedly in love with him; Syndovar is recognized as a cold-hearted fanatic (even if people are rather too scared of him to, y’know, tell him off about it); and the entire freaking plot, to repeat, is suing the King of the Elves for a CC Dissolution W/Out Children.
And yet, at the same time, elves are credible as fantastic beings of knowledge and ancient power….and, yeah, are kinda sexy. Even if Cass hasn’t gotten any since 1843. (SNERK)
– And then there are just some bits that are downright funny. I mean, appart from the premise of suing the elf king for a divorce. Dracophobia gravis and all its diagnosed permutations. “Elfhame Ultramar is not paradise, but it does have a balanced ecology. Fools are always at the bottom of the food chain.” The sentient hedge-maze deciding that an unplanned trimming is not worth keeping the party separated….
– Cesare the artistic assassin cat is worth a star all unto himself.
– The fact that the freaking king of the elves was a hair metal rock star…with a single that was number thirty-seven for two whole weeks…called “Demon Lover”…had me in stitches.
– Elves in America is always kind of a tricky one. These aren’t bound by the old compacts; they are by (SPOILER!) the Latin Law….meh. EF should have gone whole hog, and, as they are as much American immigrants as the Mayflower families, have based their society on, wait for it, the Constitution. Give me some freaking Second Amendment elves with a tacticool obsession. Give me Federalist-obsessed elves who quote Cato. Say their whole society has based itself on human society, circa 1790. Say they contrast themselves haughtily with the old-guard stratified courts back home. What about Confederate elves?? COME ON YOU KNOW stuck-up aristocrats would have totally identified with the Confederates. How’s that for problematic?
Anyhow, this is all a bit heavy for a suburban fantasy starring a married, Jewish lawyer with a five year old daughter and a history professor husband, but the fact remains that the elf society isn’t very fleshed out, and the shocking reveals that are, uh, revealed, are kind of…empty and underwhelming.
– I really liked the villain, even though he was in the wrong, and was upset that he went down like a chump. He was kinda badass and deserved a better end.
-…um….that seems to be just about all of the cons to it.
Rated: simply because few things are perfect, nine poisoned mice out of ten.
The Magician’s Guild – Trudi Canavan – Review
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.
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