Monday, June 25, 2012

Talk about being sold a bill of goods!

2 out of 5 stars

I had a hard time slogging through this, as evinced by the length of time it took me from start to finish. The concept is good, in fact the plot is a tried-and-true escapist fantasy, it was just...dull.

First off, the main character, Ben Holiday, is, well, frankly, he's a woman in many ways. His behaviors and emotions reminded me quite often of the heroines in modern PNR fiction: "Oh, woe is me, I'm so miserable. I have a horrid sense of self-worth and everyone keeps telling me how important I am, how special I am, and I just can't, I won't believe it, at least, not until the last act when my obstinacy and sullen attitude has put everyone else in a position of danger and I wake up, stop being such a whiny bitch and take my rightful place as the true leader I was supposed to be all along." Yeah, that gets really annoying after the first few chapters and even more so when it's a man doing the whining. Conversely, Ben Holiday would also act like a complete Neanderthal when it came to female characters. This was most obvious in his actions toward Willow the sylph (half sprite, half wood nymph). He constantly rejects her, even when she tells him that his rejection will be detrimental to her and/or to him. For instance, she tells him to ask her father, the River Master (the sprite), for his permission for Willow to leave with Ben, as she's important to his quest. Instead, he sneaks off the next day at dawn without talking to the River Master about Willow and when she shows up later on (to rescue him, naturally), she tells him that because she left without permission, permission Ben failed to acquire, she's now exiled from her father's land. And he's surprised about that! What a dumbass. Then again, Willow isn't much better as a character. When she first meets Ben, she tells him she belongs to him, a concept which he doesn't accept (of course), but which she repeats on every subsequent meeting with him. If that isn't bad enough, most of the time she's around, she simply floats passively through the scene, as though she's there merely to do Ben's bidding or to get trampled on by his insensitivity. Which she pretty much is. Even during the rescue, when she gets to be proactive for once, you don't feel any sense of heroics from her, just a sense that she couldn't let anything bad happen to the man "she belongs to." The whole thing is irksome. (And, by the way, when did hairy women become sexy? Willow has long hair on her head, which is fine, but also lines of long silky hair, growing along the backs of her forearms and along the backs of her calves. I'm sorry, but yuck!)

As far as auxiliary characters, once again they were simply there to support Ben. I didn't feel any particular connection to them and while the wizard, Questar, had a backstory, none of the others really did. And it didn't feel as though that much effort was put into them. I mean, one of his retainers is a former man who's now a dog, having got that way through a magical mishap perpetrated by Questar. Really? That's it? A dog. Granted, a dog who wears glasses and a waistcoat, but, and this is where the creativity seems less creative and more lazy, a dog whose hands have conveniently not fully turned into paws, having stubby fingers at the end of them so that he may still do his job. Right off the top of my head, I can come up with five other creatures/objects the retainer could've been turned into, each of them presenting a more creative and intriguing angle to the plot than this one.

The plot was a quasi-quest as Ben, the new king of this magic kingdom called Landover, roams the land in order to get support for his rule. However, even though there's a big duel at the end and a few confrontations throughout the novel, for my part, I never felt any real tension as far as "I need to get the support of my people before the demon who's challenged me comes to spit me on the end of his lance." It all felt very meandering and casual, with no real drama or danger. And the thing which bugged me the most about Brooks' writing is that he's very repeat-y. In one paragraph, in which he's describing the appearance and situation of a particular valley, he uses the word 'valley' four a three sentence paragraph! And he loved the word 'trailers' when it came to describing the actions of the mist which surrounded said valley; I can't count the number of times he used it. And why, when there are plenty of other, really great words to describe the ethereal, mercurial, fleeting nature of that particular meteorological phenomenon. I realize repeating a word isn't a national crime, nor is using a different word to describe the same object any better; however, a little variety can be a good thing.

I think the most disappointing thing about this book, though, is that it was sold to me as more a comedy than a straight fantasy, at least according to the blurbs on the book jacket. I adore a good comedic fantasy and I was expecting this to be along those lines. Sadly, it wasn't. I've never read any of Terry Brooks' other works; I've heard he's supposedly a well-respected author. If that's the case, this book isn't an ideal introduction to his talent. Overall, it was a very dissatisfying read.

Read November 27-December 4, 2011
Originally reviewed on Goodreads December 5, 2011      

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