Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Note on “To Ride Hell’s Chasm”

I find the writing style quite truncated. It feels as though there are words missing, even though actually there aren't. Everything needed for meaning is there, but the style is so sparse that I keep having to go back and check if I missed something, either an actual word or the meaning of the words that are there. I'm a very literal reader, especially since the CFS, so I'm more likely to miss something if it is obliquely worded or expressed in a style my brain doesn't parse so easily.

So far, this seems to apply mostly with respect to the characters' motivations, so I hope my brain adjusts soon. Still, I'm only on p. 57 so there's plenty of time yet.

I have my suspicions about the fact that by p.99 we still haven't been given the name of the prince of Devall. Other characters have been described by position or rank and then had their names revealed, but he still hasn't. I don't know what it is I might suspect but I think there's something to it. It's probably too simplistic to suspect he's the sorcerer, but names do often have an importance in sorcery, so it is something to keep in mind.

I certainly don't trust the prince of Devall, but I don't have enough information to make any guesses as to what he's up to. For example, in the current scene he keeps feeding Kailen more wine, which really isn't in his (Kailen's) best interests. He (the prince) is definitely manipulating everyone around him, and some of them, such as Kailen and the seneschal seem to be very easily manipulated.

Everyone's disdain and prejudice about Mykkael is really starting to piss me off.

I think the wider world is coming to Sessalie.

All the petty politicking and attempts to get Mykkael arrested are really starting to annoy me. They're wasting so much time on their prejudices when it should be used on solving the problems they're facing. Also, all the slurs and insults aimed at Mykkael bother me, partly because I hate prejudice and hate, and also because it is just plain rude.

Given the prevailing attitude and the number of people out to take down Mykkael, I'm surprised Taskin is standing behind him (for lack of a better phrase) as staunchly as he is. I'm glad he is mind you, but it seems to go against everyone else's response to Mykkael.

I'm finding all the politicking to be very annoying. I'd rather just get on with the solving the mystery of the sorcerer and rescuing Anja. I'm not saying it shouldn't be in the book, because then it would be a different book and it does all fit with the setting and the characters. It's just that it's all ticking me off, which is probably a sign of good world-building and good writing more than anything else.

I don't really understand Mykkael and Taskin and what drives them. Taskin is a bit easier to understand, but I really don't get what guides and drives Mykkael. He has just fought Taskin on the tourney ground and it is frustrating to see two characters who are basically on the same side trying to kill each other. And if Mykkael is as good as the story so far has suggested, did he have to injure Taskin so badly and kill the other soldiers? That's just going to make everything worse.

I guess Wurts is succeeding as a writer because I'm so bothered by what's going on, not because of her decisions as a writer, but because she's created a world and characters I care about, even while I'm still not sure if I actually like them.

Okay, Mykkael's actions (or most of them) explained a few pages on. Thank you, author. It makes better sense now.

Okay, that's interesting. I wasn't expecting Mykkael to go back to the city.

Jussoud has just spoken very truly. I've been blaming prejudice for the developing situation, but it is far more due to ignorance.

Sessalie, in its isolation and safety, has no idea of the realities outside the realm, so the people making the decisions are either easily fooled or doing what the enemy wants out of lack of belief in the danger. And for the reader, who can see it all happening from a distance, it is all really terribly sad, but inevitable.

"Timal fell as a hero, serving my loyal oath to the king." (p. 234)

Yes, I see. Mykkael swore to the king that he would find and protect Anja. He takes that very seriously and is willing (although reluctant) to break a lesser oath to uphold that one. It's kind of like the three laws of robotics, where the hierarchy of laws allows the breaking of a lower law to maintain a higher one. He did the same thing when he swore to see the other princess to safety. Unfortunately, people get broken on that kind of determined maintenance of the highest oath.

I know Kailen and the seneschal are ignorant rather than stupid, but the ease with which the prince of Devall (who still doesn't have a name) can manipulate them to his ends does make them look that  way.

Okay, I wasn't expecting Kailen to be a demon's minion, although the news about the prince of Devall doesn't surprise me at all.

Hmm, getting a bit worried about how the protagonists are going to survive another 200 pages. It's all looking a bit precarious. 

Ironically, I am less tense now we're running from kerries, unmasked demon minions and the like than I was when all the petty politicking was going on. At least now we can get on with it instead of being stopped by ignorance, stupidity and petty prejudice. But I find myself a little worried that the book will devolve into standard fantasy fare now and we'll lose what made the first part so unique. Sure it annoyed me, but in a GOOD way.

Okay, that's totally gross. Battle with the shapechanger in its component pieces. I see now what other group members were saying about the excellence of the use of the horses in the story. All the same, I'm concerned about how many of the horses are going to survive to the end.

The introduction of the Empire and Grand Vizier seems a bit unexpected this late in the book. At the moment it seems to break the flow of the book as it has been established so far.

Mykkael is a bit of a Mary Sue really. He stays steadfast despite huge prejudice. His fighting skills are unsurpassed as is horsemanship, even though he's an outcast. He keeps going and fighting even with his injured knee, wounds and exhaustion. He's just TOO accomplished and wonderful.

I really don't understand the author's use of the word "haze" as it doesn't match the meanings I'm familiar with.

I find myself disappointed as I get towards the end of the book. I'm feeling very ho-hum about the fate of the characters. I was far more worried about them in the first half of the book. Now, I just feel the perfectly amazing Mykkael will bring Anja and himself through despite much exhausting fighting and many injuries probably to rescue by the seers and shamans from the belatedly introduced Empire (with help from Jussoud's people). If Orannia also turns up hale and hearty I'll be really pissed.

I should be really worried about the characters. They're exhausted and out of resources both internal and external. But I'm just not. Maybe it's exhaustion rather than the book? I just don't know.

I'm sorry but my suspension of disbelief threshold has been reached. Energizer Bunny Mykkael just keeps on going and going and going. Now he's got broken ribs and a locked knee and barely any weapons and he's still facing down kerries. And to have Stormfront reappear as well is just too much. Two Kerrie rides and no people or horses get killed. Sorry, but that's ridiculous. After the gritty realism of the first half, I'm finding the second half surprisingly disappointing.

Okay, I've finished.

I'm afraid I didn't end up loving this book and I think I have at least something of a handle on why. It's like it was three different books - or perhaps rather types of books - in one binding and for me they didn't sit well together.

The first half of the book drove me insane, for the reasons I outlined above as I read it. But the reason it made me so nuts is because it was really well written. The characters all had strong solid personalities and back stories. And they acted according to what the author had given them even when it made me want to grit my teeth and scream. It was gritty and uncompromising (things I admit I usually avoid) and excellent, even if it was bad for my blood pressure.

Then we moved to the action-adventure story. And compared to the power of that first half, the realism seemed to suffer. We got Energizer Bunny Mykkael who should have keeled over ages ago but conveniently only does it when rescue has arrived - but then he's going to die, but wait, no, we can fix it because we are a wonderfully powerful convenient rescue.

And now we're into the third type of book - the fantasy with an absolutely perfectly tied off ending.

There's that perfectly timed rescue I just mentioned. By people who we want to avoid because we've been told they'll want to kill Mykkael except that, hey, they don't.

And then there's Anja who makes all the right decisions for a classic fantasy ending, and after that gritty and uncompromising first half (remember that?) suddenly it all seems to be driving towards an ideal ending. Yeah, she had to marry the prince, but she's a princess with an imperilled kingdom. That was always going to happen. But wait, the prince is young and beautiful and even a nice guy. How convenient for Anja.

Too many things were tied up conveniently. Everything had a reasonable explanation sure, but it all turned up neatly at the end to get a happy ending. Oh, let's bring in the shamans, who happen to be powerful enough to not only save Mykkael and Anja, but also to find out the demon's name, save and cleanse Sassalie, save Kailen (even if he's dead), give Anja suitable visions of the future to make the right choices, heal Mykkael's physical injuries, heal Mykkael's emotional and spiritual injuries (at a distance from all the people involved, many of whom were dead) and, whoo-hoo for an encore, heal Orannia as well (and also at a distance) and see a vision of Mykkael and Orannia living a long life together and having lots of babies together. Oh yeah, I forgot. We also had a revelation that Mykkael wasn't really an outcast at all and we'll welcome him to the clan while we're at it.

It's all too pat. I think I would find it that way anyway, but after the uncompromising nature of the first half of the book, all these convenient happenings to tie off all these loose end with ribbons and bows feels rather like a betrayal of what the characters, especially Mykkael, suffered in that first half.

And then there's all those characters in the first half who are suddenly abandoned by the narrative. We leave the action in Sessalie in the middle of a battle for goodness sake. And we never go back. Sure, we get told bits and pieces of what happened through moments of witch thought or the intervening little bits of narrative but it's not enough. After all those characters went through in the first half, they deserved a proper ending that was shown and not told.

Hmm, it's becoming clear to me that I actually had major issues with this book. I think at its simplest, for me, the perfect fantasy happy ending and the contrivances required for that betrayed the stark power of the first half. The first half felt painfully real, so to shift to a more standard, over the top kind of fantasy fare in the second half was a huge disappointment. Also, as much as I like a happy ending, the second half wasn't in tune with what the first half set up and promised the reader.

This was a schizophrenic book for me. Or perhaps more a case of multiple personality disorder with two distinctly differently toned books inside the one binding (I'm lumping the adventure part and ending together here). I think I would have prefered either a second half that matched the first half (hard though that would have been to read) or a first half that matched the second half, rather than the mix that I actually got.

Rating: 6/10