The Meaningless Moniker 'Mary Sue'
Firstly, I want to say how much I loved the first trilogy in The Symphony of Ages. Five big ole stars. As much as I am enjoying the new wave of fantasy, The Symphony of Ages’ grand sweeping world building, mystery/romance story line, and amazing travelogue, is exactly where my heart feels at home. The installments are long, meticulously detailed, with an amazing push/pull plot that makes you frown in frustration, then cheer out loud, then weep in sorrow, and then cry for the beauty of it. I will absolutely be acquiring the rest of the series as soon as I can afford to!
Now, I want to rant. Not about the books; the books have given me more pleasure than I rightly deserve probably. I’ve been bottling these frustrations up for a while, this annoyance has got my bloody goat way too often recently. This series has given me a prime opportunity to let it out, as it's a prime example of where this annoyance crops up. So here’s the deal, I don’t want to rant to people who are just going to moan that I am ranting about feminist issues. So I’m going to stick it in spoilers, and if you don’t want to deal, don’t open it. I have things I really want to say, but I really don’t want the damned backlash. If it’s not for you, please, don’t read it. If it is.. Read on… :)
Myranda is alone, the last surviving member of her village, and a pacifist in a world that seems bent on rejecting peace. In the Northern Alliance, her home, speaking out against the Perpetual War can get a person ostracized or worse. Myranda finds herself constantly on the move, and it is during her aimless travels that she comes across a dead soldier and his beautiful jeweled sword. That sword lands Myranda in an enormous amount of trouble, bringing her to the attention of the Northern Alliance's elite soldiers, a rebel group known as Undermine, and a deadly and mysterious assassin known as the Red Shadow.
I downloaded this for free about three years ago and finally decided to read it when I saw that the author's other books were part of the current month-long Smashwords sale. I was particularly interested in The Rise of the Red Shadow, because I'm a sucker for gorgeous cover art and anthropomorphic foxes.
The Book of Deacon did a pretty good job of killing my interest in getting more of this series. It may have a pretty cover, but the text itself read like an early draft rather than a polished and complete work. There were typos, incorrectly used words, sentences that used the wrong verb tense, and way too many instances of the words “rather” and “quite,” but the real problem was the work as a whole.
Yeah, I know that sounds harsh. I do think that there was a decent story in here, but it was buried under plodding pacing, ridiculous, incorrect, or confusing details, and a lack of decent focus. It needed somebody to go through the whole thing and ask questions like “Does this make sense?”, “Is this section necessary?” and “Is there a better way to communicate this information?” At the very least.
One of many examples: women didn't traditionally become soldiers, but the war had been going on for so long that there simply weren't enough men anymore. Women had started to go off to war rather than stay at home and raise families. You'd think that this would lead to things like a steadily shrinking population, a healthy respect for anyone that might be considered this world's equivalent of a doctor, and maybe protests against the war. Instead, people attacked or shunned anyone who was against the war. On the one hand, it was made illegal for white magic practitioners to practice white magic (healing, among other things) in the service of anyone but the Northern Alliance Army. On the other hand, many white magic practitioners were let go from the army because it was supposedly easier to just replace fallen soldiers than heal them. Which directly contradicted the detail about the lack of men leading to more women becoming soldiers. None of it made any sense.
There was some evidence, later on in the book, that the Northern Alliance had been infiltrated by the series' true bad guys, a group of inhuman beings. Maybe they were using the war to slowly destroy the Northern Alliance from within, but that didn't explain the shocking way Myranda was treated. People who should have been at least a little interested in her continued survival seemed determined to kill her with apathy.
The rebel group that found Myranda knew her shoulder was wounded but hadn't even planned to look at it, much less do anything about it. When they realized it was infected, they let her have a night's rest, gave her some food and water, and sent her on a multi-day journey to a wizard. Granted, Myranda herself didn't seem to think her injury was worth much concern either, because she didn't immediately tell the wizard about it. When she finally mentioned it, he removed the bit of wood that led to the infection and then told her she'd better learn white magic quickly, because he was going to expect her to heal herself. He didn't mention that it should have taken her 3+ weeks to learn everything she needed to know. Luckily, she was super special and learned fast.
Like I said, I don't think anyone read this book through prior to its publication and asked whether everything made sense. I kept reading, though, because I'm bad at DNFing books and because there were occasional good bits. I liked Leo, who reminded me a little of Disney's Robin Hood, and the baby dragon was kind of cute.
The last third of the book made me regret my decision to continue on. Myranda ended up in a hidden village filled with what were essentially academics. Literally everyone studied simply for the sake of studying – practical work, like food growing, could be quickly taken care of via magic. For absolutely no reason, all of the village's Master-level magic users fought to be the first to train Myranda their variety of magic, and, although she'd only just started to learn magic, she was instantly put in expert-level training sessions. She took days or weeks to learn what should have taken her months or years. Meanwhile Deacon, an actual magical genius who'd been studying for years, worried that he'd only hold Myranda back if he spent too much time with her.
(Yes, there was a hint of romance, but only a hint, because they were both too socially awkward to make much progress in that area. It went something like this: Master magic user: "Psst! Tell her she's pretty." Deacon: "I'm sure you already know this, Myranda, but you're lovely. *blush*" Myranda: "Oh! *blush* Thank you. You're a really nice friend.")
I honestly don't think it was necessary for readers to see every detail of Myranda learning to master first fire, then air, then earth, and then water. It was excruciating and often ridiculous. Also, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated with Myranda. She got angry at Leo/Lain for not doing what he could to stop the war, but she should really have directed her anger at the entire village. Everyone there was a powerful magic user and/or warrior, and not one of them had even tried to leave the village, much less lifted a finger to stop the war. They were all content with their petty rivalries, meaningless squabbles, and neverending research.
Although this ended on a cliffhanger, I have no desire to find out what happens next.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
Everything you hear about Carey's writing style is true. There is preponderance of words, there is a breathless tone to, and Phedre is, quite frankly, at times a bit annoying and a bit princess perfect.
Yet, this is a damn good book. I've read it more than twice. Just recently re-read it, and despite the flaws, Carey draws you into the word. In many ways, it really is what 50 Shades and the like wants to be. Phedre's talent or curse is what she resents at time; her own sexuality never. Additionally, unlike many books I can name, rape is handled in an adult manner.
It is also a wonderfully good political fantasy.
Does anyone else wonder if this book was written in part as a response to Martin's work?