sobota, 19 stycznia 2008
The "Banewreaker" Diaries

Jacqueline Carey, Banewreaker, Tor Fantasy 2005


Sunday: Day One

Can anybody please tell me, WHY did the author, who had proven with her first series that she currently had not that many equals among fantasy writers to be compared with, HAVE TO start her new novel as if it was a (rather bad) imitation of The Silmarillion?

After the brilliantly composed world of The Kushiel Trilogy, with its original and carefully elaborated vision of an alternative Europe, she starts her second book, The Banewreaker, with an account of the creation of the seven gods-angels, called Shapers, the making of Men and Elves and Dwarves (and some other races just as well); then we have the Fall of the youngest of the Shapers and the creating of three magical objects of immense powers... What follows is an account of the Shapers' Wars that have divided the world, the shake triumph of the Six and the building of the Fallen One's stronghold in Gorgantum, far away in the icefields of the North; there, the magical dagger made of the Souma, God's third eye, the only weapon that can kill the Shaper, will remain safe, hidden from, the six arch-enemies of the Banewreaker...
I have just started the reading. Knowing Carey's gift for storytelling and world-creating, the book might yet turn out to be original and fascinating... but such a beginning bodes ill. Ill indeed; if not for the fact that I've read the Kushiel cycle before and fell under the spell of it, I would have thrown Banewreaker away on, say, page three. Even a motto taken from Paradise Lost would not help. And, in all that, there's also an unquenchable fire and the magical sword... and nearly, nearly the Fisher King, a wounded angel who has lost his virility and turned the land in which he lives into a barren, lifeless, Mordoresque wasteland...

Monday: Day Two

Not good. Not good at all. The idea that the Prince of Lies, the Banewreaker, is suffering and hates his fate and that his brother and archenemy, the First of the angels, is a haughty, cold-hearted and merciless seeker of perfection, seems quite interesting, even if it isn't stunnigly original; also, the general quality of Carey's writing is as good as usual. The events are followed, however, by the appearance of the red star on the night sky: it shows the Banewreaker and his Nine... ehm, Three counsellors (once men, turned immortal) that the long-lost magical ring... sorry, gem, drowned in Anduin.... sorry, in the sea, millenia ago, has just been found by the Six other Shapers, thus enabling them to Shape the world a.k.a. do some serious magic anew. I have an overwhelming (bad) feeling that Carey has decided to write her own version of Yeskov's The Last Lord of the Ring... The feeling is strenghtened by the fact that the Elves... sorry, Ellyon, have names such as Erilonde, Elderran, Elduril, Cerendril, Cerelinde and Elterrion and that a new topic emerging in chapter 1 is a marriage of an Ellyon princess (the last one born the Ellyon - the Evenstar of her people?) to the king of Men. And yes, the Ellyon princess is an Evenstar of her people (even if she's not called that). Her husband-to-be is Aracus of the royal house of Altoria, born when the once-mighty dynasty dwindled into the Borderguard of Curonan. A pupil of the immortal sorcerer... ehm, Councellor, to that. And it turns out that the second lost great gem was kept guarded... guess where... was it a dragon cave? Yes, indeed!! And, given to a simple mortal girl, it had made her a powerful and immortal Sorceress... Not to mention the fact that we encounter a youth of the desert people, not even a grown man yet, the only one who can bring in a burden - too heavy for the sorcerers and knights and rangers to carry - inside the very fortress of the dark Lord... sorry, the Banewreaker. The youth's tribe is much smaller in height than the Men and he has curly hair and comely face. All right - at least he's black. Oh, and there's a mighty Wizard... ehm, sorry, Companion.... who "dies" in the caverns, deep under the surface of the Earth. I wonder if he returns as a White Rider.
There's too many of these concidences - I can't believe Carey would be that unoriginal without a purpose. Maybe, after all, she is writing her own Last Lord of the Ring?
The good thing is that the character of Tanaros, one of the Three, seems complicated and interesting, with the dark betrayal in his past and the loyalty for his inhuman companions and his fallen Master pervading his actions. We'll see what happens to him later...


Tuesday: Day Three

The whole story starts to develop one interesting feature. In Yeskov, there seem to be evil manipulators on both parts, the Free Peoples and Sauron. Here, there seem to be decent people on both: one cannot help but sympathize with Tanaros, who became one of the Three out of despair and misery, having murdered his beloved and unfaithful wife long ago. And on the other hand one cannot but wish well to princess Cerelinde, who has finally decided to love and marry a mortal and knows all to well that she will live and he will die.
The characters are in general developing nicely, especially these of Taranos, Cerelinde and Altorus; the episode with the abduction of the bride is well-written and convincing. Not to mention the character of the Sunderer himself...
Oh, and Jacqueline Carey is writing her own Last Lord of the Ring. Here's a quoation: Cerelinde, every story has two sides. Yours the world knows, for the Ellylon are poets and singers unsurpassed, and their story endures. Who in Urulat has ever listened to the Fjeltroll's side of the tale?

Wednesday: Day Four

Well, I think I've made up my mind. As much as the novel is Carey's play with Tolkienian themes (conscious, but sometimes a trifle too obvious), it is difficult to put it away and stop reading. The author has a gift to keep the reader occupied and I want to know what happens next, especially that she managed to avoid one mistake, that is the total changing of sides. It is not simply so that Sauron's... sorry, Satoris' people are good and the ones siding with Haomane and the Ellyon are evil. We have, on both sides, weary soldiers, fed with propaganda and wanting nothing but rest; we have, on both, idealists believing in their sacred values (Cerelinde and Tanaros), we have heartless manipulators and liars and we have victims. Carey seems to have a certain feel for thinking the mythical way: her choice for the Three (a brokenhearted murderer, a cunning and corrupted yet loyal politician and a victim turned oppressor) seems flawless.

 Thursday: Day Five

There is one character in the novel that I hate passionately, while as a reader I am propably supposed to feel compassionate towards her. I mean the local female incarnation of Saruman: Lilias, the Sorceress of the East. There was a brilliant premise behind that character, a story of a mortal thane's beautiful child who was histerically afraid of getting old and dying; there's a very good concept of her being (in a way) in love with the dragon who had had a whim to help her. But... but. But her decadent court of beautiful boys and sweet half naked girls in collars is simply annoying and she herself irritates me to no end, as she seems to have migrated to this particular novel from another one: remember that one about a beautiful girl with a red mote in her eye... And maybe I am, in general, too allergic to the idea of pretty boys dressed in scanty clothes, serving on their knees their beautiful and cruel masters - some truly traumatic memories of reading Poppy Z. Brite, Anne Rice and above all Mary Renault come back to haunt me...

 Friday: Day Six

Jacqueline Carey is a competent witer, no doubt about that. The novel is well constructed and, despite what some of the reviewers think, very well written. The confusing factor seems the be the mixing of the styles: one moment, we have Taranos converse with Satoris on an almost-mystical, Silmarillion-like plane and five minutes later he is discussing sick-leaves for the boys in the army with his second in command, the tired old Troll-soldier. The dialogues vary from the hieratic thees, thous and inforasmuches typical for high fantasy to everyday language - which only adds to both the confusion and the worth of The Sunderer as a polemics with fantasy tradition. And the (crypto)quotation from Eddings is not accidental: there's almost as much from The Belgariad in The Sunderer as it is from The Lord of the Rings (starting from the concept of the Sundering itself).
The mythological part is a well constructed nearly-pastiche of Tolkien's cosmogony and cosmology, with a brilliant concept (that somehow reminds me of C. S. Friedman - she could have thought of that concept but draw different conclusions) that only the fallen angel/god is here on Earth to listen to the troubles of the ordinary people.

 Saturday, Day Seven

I'm done. I've finished the first part. Yes, there is a White Rider at the end and a romance in the air. We shall see what happens next.