Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Set in the stone wall was a circular door of polished steel, on which the skull-and-Ouroboros was inlaid in shining brass."

I tried, I feel I really did. But I got to Chapter 8--page 85--and could go no further. This is an ambitious book, but the author misplaced those ambitions, putting all his toys in his world-building toybox without leaving anything for development and execution. And that's my main issue with the book, the world building: Yes, it's detailed. However, it's never fully explained. Now, I admit, I hate info dumps and it's a poor writer who uses them to explain how his or her world works. But I also hate a book where the author throws words and people and situations at you without explaining context, history, origin, or without even giving you a general understanding of what the hell is going on! I mean, yeah, it's cool to be in a world where a day is 25 hours long, or power is provided by the bones of the dead; where captive wraiths power elevators and escalators are powered by runes. But I'm the kind of reader who needs an understanding of the how and the why, a history of how a world in which humans and zombies and wraiths and mages can live side-by-side, in relative harmony, even if it's just a sentence here or a throwaway line of dialogue there. Instead, I'm left feeling more and more lost as the book continues to sink me further into this world without providing any sort of guide rope to follow. Yet, Meaney went overboard with certain scene descriptions where there was no reason or no action relevant to the plot. For example, Meaney goes into great detail concerning the main character's, Donal Riordan's, evening ritual, wherein he comes home, uses the bathroom, changes and does some stretching, goes out for a run, comes home and takes a shower, changes clothes again, goes back out, buys a book, eats, comes home, reads in bed, and falls asleep. Seriously. All that took up four pages of the book. Why? Yes, Riordan does his running in the underground tunnels of the city, which are used in a later action sequence. However, that information could've easily been introduced in a more interesting manner without all the other, extremely boring stuff that gave me no insight into Donal's character and certainly did nothing to actively advance the story.

There's a lot of imaginative stuff in this book, but it hasn't been presented well and that's where the poor execution shows: Poor character development, poor sentence construction (a lot of sentence fragments), and just a general lack of flow and easy readability. This wanted to be hard-boiled. This wanted to be the snappy, sparsely-written detective story in the vein of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, just with a few twists on the setting. It's not. Meaney confused brevity with lack, and it shows. (Meaney has the idea that if you throw in enough skulls, Ouroboros images, catacombs, along with zombies, deathwolves, and other assorted ghoulies, we'll get the idea that his Tristopolis is a Gothic wonderland without him having to go to the actual effort of bringing his creation to life with history and backstory. It's like one of those Hollywood backlots, where the fronts of the buildings look all functional and fabulous, but there's nothing behind them except some 2"x 4"s propping the facades up. Not to mention everything Meaney describes is either black or purple. Now, I love me some purple, but after a while, even I got tired of hearing about the color!) And there are multiple italicized asides that simply add to the confusion as we have no idea who's speaking them, if they're indeed being spoken, or if they're internal, I'm-going-crazy-and-this-is-what-I'm-hearing whispers in Donal's head. For example, Do you hear the bones?,So beautiful...We are the bonesWe know you now. Again, there's no context, no explanation, no reason behind them other than a sense of, "Ooh, look, I'm making things spooky here, folks! This is my Gothic-detective-fantasy novel and things are getting wei-rd!"

I might not have had a problem with any of this if I could've gotten a handle on the main character, but it seemed as though every time I turned the page the man would flip his personality. Donal would threaten one character for off-the-books fudging of inventory and then turn around and do something shady and very un-cop-like the next chapter. I still don't know what Donal's motivations are, what his innate character and personality is, nothing about what drove the man to do what he did. And that fits in with the overall description for this book: It's an enigma. One I don't care about, nor was ever given a reason to care about, solving.

Read from September 27 to October 2, 2015

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