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Pauline's Fantasy Reviews

Reviews of fantasy books, plus some mystery, sci-fi and literary works, and my random thoughts on book-related matters.

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Dragon Queen (The Memory of Flames, #5)
Stephen Deas
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H. Anthe Davis, Erica Dakin

The Broken World Book One - Children of Another God

Children of Another God - T.C. Southwell This was one I picked up for free in my early days of Kindle enthusiasm, and, as always with free books, there's no knowing quite what you'll find when you open it up. This one has a fascinating premise - the Mujar, a race of demi-god-like people with vast powers, who have an uneasy and unfriendly relationship with the resident humans of their world. The humans despise them because they won't use their powers for good, and seem oblivious to the usual human emotions, although they sometimes form loose clan bonds with them, providing the 'comforts' the Mujar crave (although they don't need them) in exchange for work and occasional protection. They can't be killed, but humans trap them in pits from which they can't escape.

Talsy, an eighteen year old, forms a bond with one of the last free Mujar, Chanter, and uses him to escape from her dull life. They form a kind of clan bond, and travel through the landscape getting into and out of trouble, while Chanter attempts to fulfill a commitment acquired from an earlier encounter. And, as far as the plot goes, that's about it. There are two forms of plot device in use: Talsy wanders off by herself, some bloke attempts to rape her; and Chanter tries to rescue her, gets captured and the evil humans (which is almost all of them) try to inflict as much damage on him as they can. This gets tedious pretty quickly. It's a shame that the author's imagination can think of no better plot device than violence and (for women) sexual violence. Are humans really so devoid of any semblance of civilisation that violence is the first and last resort?

This book exemplifies everything that's good about self-published books, and at the same time a great deal that's less good. On the good side of the equation, the story is brimming with creativity. The concept of the Mujar is brilliant, and the author captures the 'otherness' of Chanter perfectly; not just by description, but by his actions and the way he speaks. There are some delightful interludes when he goes off to be his wild self for a while, changing form into a bird or a wolf or a dolphin, as the mood takes him. The living death of his captivity, trapped by accident or design, is very moving. The mysterious Black Riders, while having the world's least original name, are also intriguing, and the backstory, the history of this world, is touched on here and there, and there's obviously a detailed mythology behind the fairly simple upper levels. The scenario also raises some quite interesting questions about the nature of humanity.

But the negative is that the author doesn't quite seem to know what to do with these great ideas. The world-building is perfunctory, to put it mildly. There are vast expanses of nothing very much, and here and there the occasional city, depicted as a seething pit of corruption, violence and general nastiness. And Chanter and Talsy simply wander around, without much obvious purpose, and, quite frankly, without using any intelligence whatsoever. When they come to a city, Talsy decides to get fresh supplies. Well, that's fine. But why then walk right through the city, dangerous for both of them? There must be other ways to cross the river that divides it. There must also be other, safer ways of obtaining supplies - towns or villages or trading posts, for instance, or simply finding a farm and offering to work for a day or two. And Talsy is irritatingly helpless, swooning or falling over or getting lost or putting herself at the mercy of lecherous men at the most inconvenient moments. Chanter isn't exactly the best protector, either, since he always seems to disappear at crucial moments, leaving Talsy in peril and setting up another dramatic rescue.

Apart from the mysterious Chanter, none of the characters filling the landscape are at all compelling. Mostly they are cartoonish in their simplicity - brutish, ignorant louts, hell-bent on mindless destruction, and this goes for both the peasants and the more educated members of society. Very occasionally there will be an act of random kindness, but it seems to be more a matter of plot contrivance than anything else. None of the characters felt truly rounded or believable, they were all simply ciphers for good or evil behaviour. Talsy ought to be more realistic, but her behaviour is mostly irrational and her function is either to reveal information by asking naive questions, or to get herself into trouble and create a dramatic incident.

It never made sense to me that the local population was so united in its hatred of the Mujar. Given that the Mujar never harm them, and could, if treated well, bestow 'wishes' on them, it would seem more sensible to try to exploit that facility. And everyone, peasant and ruler alike, knew all about them and hated them equally; more likely, surely, that the uneducated would fear them, and have only a rudimentary idea of their powers, while the more educated would understand them better. But no, everyone hates them, to the point of mindless resentment even when Chanter uses his powers for their benefit. I found this really unbelievable, and unfortunately much of the tension at various dramatic moments hinges on this factor - oh no, Chanter's been captured again, the evil humans are going to beat him senseless and throw him in a pit, just because he's a Mujar. Can he escape? Can the helpless Talsy rescue him?

I found this a frustrating read. In many ways, it's an interesting story, filled with original ideas, but the author seems to be more interested in the mythology of the Mujar and admiring Chanter's beautiful body than in developing a coherent and absorbing story, or compelling characters. The plot is driven by the sheer stupidity of some characters, a ludicrous division into good and evil (the good are the 'chosen', everyone else is 'unworthy'), combined with the Mujar's largely unexplained rules which prohibit any kind of sensible relationship with the humans. There were moments of poetic mysticism, which then lurched into quite unbelievable contrivances, and occasionally became a simplistic lecture on environmentalism (let's all live in harmony with nature, people, and not kill anything or build machines or use oil or - heaven forfend - cut down trees). There was also a rather too heavy romantic element, which is clearly going to get more complicated in later books in the series. On the plus side, the writing is fine, and thankfully free of typos or clunkiness. For those who like this sort of thing, the author has written many more books in several different series, and the first of each is permanently free, so at least you can try it out. Unfortunately it's not for me. Two stars.