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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.

Currently reading

Dragon Queen (The Memory of Flames, #5)
Stephen Deas
The Splintered Eye (The War of Memory Cycle #2)
H. Anthe Davis, Erica Dakin

The Skein of Lament (The Braided Path series) (bk. 2)

The Skein of Lament - Chris Wooding This is the seond part of 'The Braided Path' trilogy. Despite having read the first part relatively recently, I had forgotten quite a lot of it, and although Wooding reminds the reader of most of the salient points, there were still a few places where I was confused.

The author's world-building is awesome. This is not a word I use lightly, but nothing else quite covers it. Everything about Saramyr and its neighbouring territories - history, mythology, races, cultures, natural history, geography - is defined in infinitely layered and nuanced detail. Sometimes an almost throwaway line gives me a frisson of total pleasure - the flight of a bird, the noise of an insect, a rock formation, a character's tattoos, the way food is eaten. It's all there, all thought about and carefully dropped here and there for best effect, creating a world which truly feels 'other', almost alien.

I particularly liked the three moons, all different, which occasionally come into conjunction causing sudden moonstorms, followed by drifts of tiny ice crystals. I have no idea whether that is feasible in real-world physics, but it's extraordinarily evocative. And the moons are relevant to the plot, even. I love a fully worked out secondary world, and so many fantasy writers make do with some cobbled together mishmash of recognisable environments - medieval Europe, or Roman Empire, or whatever. That's OK, just a little disappointing (and lazy, maybe). Authors, this is how it should be done. My only criticism - could have done with a better map, showing all the places mentioned, and in hi-res.

The characters, on the other hand, don't work quite so well. It's not that they're uninteresting, for some of them - Saran, Tsata, Lucia, for instance - are intriguing enough, and Asara is downright creepy. Nor are they fantasy cliches. But somehow, it's as if Wooding has drawn up a laundrylist of defining characteristics (Mishani: small, delicate, ankle-length hair, reserved, diplomat) and they never acquire much depth beyond that. Apart from Kaiku learning to control her powers, there's not much growth in evidence, although Kaiku's relationship with Tsata is nicely developed. This makes them, on the whole, unengaging and hard to care much about. And maybe it's just me, but the male characters seem to have marginally more depth than the female ones.

Plotwise, there's no slow build-up or scene setting - it's straight into the action, which never lets up. Almost, there is too much action, really, and it seems as if Our Heroes can barely put their noses outside the door without finding themselves in yet another life-threatening encounter. So perhaps a little contrived in places. There are numerous different points of view, and the story hops from one to the other like a demented frog, including to minor characters, but at least this avoids tortuous tricks to reveal incidents we couldn't otherwise have seen. Along the way, there are several totally breath-taking shocks and twists - one in particular which completely blew my mind. And yet (like all the best such moments) it was completely predictable, if only I'd been paying proper attention. Clever author.

The climax brilliantly pulls all the different plot-threads together in a very satisfying way. All the various characters were needed to achieve the resolution, and it was done without any sleight of hand. Very neat. There were a number of blood-and-guts encounters, rather too many for my taste - I'm not over-fond of all that hewing, hacking, gutting, bone-crunching and disembowelling. Oh, and let's not forget the skinning. Nice people, the Weavers. But in between the episodes of slaughter were the really interesting (to me) parts - the time spent 'in the weave', the other-dimensional place where the Weavers and certain others can do - well, whatever it is they do. Is it magic? Or just something unexplained? Who knows, but it's a terrific concept, and definitely the best part of the story. And now everything is set up for the ultimate confrontation on a grand scale. A good four stars.