Science fiction and fantasy
by Gabrielle Staples
In the Pelarian series, of which this is book one, there is a multiverse of worlds, both magical and physical. It is possible to travel between them with the help of certain crystals. So Ruth can step out from our own world into places where magic can be used, but electronic gadgets are useless.
Unfortunately the balance of the multiverse is under threat, thanks to the activities of a group of sorceresses. The Selador sorceresses are hell-bent on grabbing power for themselves, no matter that their actions could destroy the entire multiverse. It is Ruth's job to defend the Balance of good and evil.
As well as introducing us to a large range of worlds, Situation Vacant involves a host of different characters. Most of these start out as little more than two-dimensional fantasy stereotypes. There's Orselon the kindly scholar and mage, Todi the keen page-boy, Brake the gruff soldier, and Richard the love interest, to name a few. But all of the above look positively credible in comparison with Catta and Zerifey, the villains. The leaders of the sorceresses are so evil and gleefully sadistic that they seem like a parody.
Thanks to a few too many drawn-out lectures about magic and the multiverse, the pace falters at the start of the book. Ruth's time at Castle Bardshelm is leisurely and pampered, and reading about her getting fat with easy living is not riveting. The author has a tendency to set up mysteries and solve them rather too quickly, destroying a lot of the suspense that has built up. Some of the characters act like plot puppets, doing what the overall plot dictates rather than following their own agendas and behaving as though they have a will of their own. It's clear in Situation Vacant that Gabrielle Staples has not yet mastered the craft of writing, and the book is peppered with the kind of oversights that make creative writing tutors groan.
However, it's not all bad. Situation Vacant has an enjoyable plot with a good helping of action and romance, and the pace builds as the novel progresses. The quality of the writing also improves noticeably, as some of the characters get fleshed out with extra details and begin to come to life. Gillano, the spy and wine merchant, is a good example of a character who becomes more intriguing later on in the novel. The book moves on to a satisfyingly complete high fantasy ending, without leaving too many mysteries unresolved.
Situation Vacant suffers from an excess of redundant characters, many of whom have not been depicted in any detail. We simply don't know enough about their motivations and fears to really believe in them and engage with them.
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