Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"The Blood King" by Gail Z. Martin

Author: Gail Z. Martin
Title: "The Blood King"
Pages: 624
Publisher: Solaris
Misc: Gail's Blog

Around the blogosphere people encounter posts about books reviewers couldn’t finish at all, couldn’t get into at all or almost could have burned them. All of this leading to negative reviews. Now I am somewhere halfway to this predicament. “The Blood King”, the second installment in the Necromancer Chronicles by Gail Z. Martin, left me with controversial perceptions in spite of my efforts to enjoy the concepts I have been eager to see developed in the genre.

“The Blood King” follows the cast from “The Necromancer” in their preparations and obstacles along their mission to prevent the rise of the Obsidian King, which equals the Christian apocalypse. Martris Drake has limited time before the Hawthorne Moon to rediscover the lessons in magic taught by his grandmother and prevent the Obsidian King from rising. In order to show himself worthy he is to pass numerous tests provided by the Sisterhood, which decided to drop neutrality. However nothing goes smoothly or according to plan since Foor Arontala has infiltrated the Sisterhood, the Blood Council and Principality Court. Traps and assassinations ensue, but those don’t deter the heroes from building a resistance from inside Margolan and gather allies from the living, dead and undead.

As promised by Martin, “The Blood King” picks up the pace dramatically in comparison with “The Necromancer”. Scenery and situations change from page to page and involve monster infested rivers, rescue missions in enemy territory, magical warfare and sieges, ambushes, spells gone wrong, boat villages and a brothel. Each hurdle brings a new piece of the world such as the new breed of enemy soldiers deprived of their humanity and turned into berserk killing machines; the elemental spirits used as an offensive weapon; the history of the Blood Council, the organization in charge of the vayash moru. So far the influence of sword & sorcery is very heavy, but Martin pulls a great world building feat with explanations and celebrations of the Godess’ aspects in geographical terms. Among all of this abundance the readers are offered the background stories of Ban Soterius and Carroway the Bard, who so far have been away from the limelight.

So where is the problem, if everything is great? And my answer is the characters, the number of characters involved in the story to be correct. From my interaction with avid readers, reviewers and authors so far, the majority of readers pay attention to characters. And fabrication of people from scratch with their background, beliefs, faults, regrets, virtues and talents is a responsible and difficult task. As far as my experience goes, most books I have read went for smaller roisters. Martin on the other hand features a core cast of nine major characters and a number of around twenty something minor or episodic characters. Although there is nothing wrong with this, the ladder has been lifted higher and the possibilities to go wrong are greater than with a smaller cast. Juggling view points, telling a story involving a lot of participants and at the same breathing in these characters life is hard to coordinate and in my opinion deserve a lot more pages.

The idea behind The Necromancer Chronicles is to create illustrate a story so grand, unseen and out of proportion in the traditional fantasy genre. However the results are rather less impressive. Martin doesn’t want to leave any character unexplored and amidst all this switching from viewpoint to viewpoint I feel like only the surface has been scratched, when so much more can be extracted from the initial idea. The changes, growth and evolution that should seep in with time in their actions have to be pointed out during the dynamics of the story. The same goes to their past. I enjoy, when clues of who they were and what they conceal, are placed along the way. Something space didn’t allow. It’s a real shame, because Martin has much to offer with her project. However I understand the need to fit into a number of novels, set by her contract. Otherwise I would have loved to see her ideas develop into a massive saga in great details on everything.

So yes, now you understand , why I feel clueless on how to label the novel. For me it was a bittersweet, controversial experience.

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