Science fiction and fantasy
by Rhiannon Paille
In this world everyone goes to the Great Oak when they reach a certain age, and the tree gives them their personal parable. Kaliel's is baffling and ominous, whilst Krishani's is ominous and baffling. His also seems to mark him for greatness. But one thing is for sure: their relationship is forbidden every which way, by prophecy, convention, and theoretically by the constraints of biology: elvens just aren't that into love, as a rule. They are both supposed to "marry the land", whatever that means (there's no explanation, but I suppose that's why elven babies appear under trees in Spring and Summer). The land of Avristar has been at peace for centuries, but a creeping corruption from the Lands of Men threatens it. An ancient foe is stirring, and if it comes to Avristar it could destroy everything.
I expected this big, scary evil to introduce itself far earlier than it did. 100 pages in we're still floundering close to where the story started, with Kaliel being typically disobedient and getting herself into minor difficulties. 200 pages in the main characters are having a few more cryptic visions, but they're still at the stage of being passed around tutors who can't teach them much of anything, and not much has changed. It's not just that the pace is slow, the problem is that the stakes are too low for too long.
By this point I had started to dislike the main characters. Their determination to be with each other no matter the cost to everyone else in the country makes them seem very selfish, and Kaliel in particular seems completely wet. She barely does anything for herself, and her default attitude seems to be flopping about weeping about how unfair everything is. It's not as if we need another spineless heroine providing a pathetic role model to young female readers. Kaliel is incapable of learning, to the extent that she can barely make a cup of tea. She struggles with herb lore and finding her place in the world, and her lack of discipline makes her tutors despair. It's as though the text is saying, "don't try to improve yourself, your innate talents will see you through." She basically has the magic she was born with and the ability to give up when things get bad. Sometimes she even cuts herself.
This is set in a universe that paints sex between consenting adults as some kind of taint that will destroy entire countries. Forbidden love plots can be sweet and filled with pent-up tensions, but this scenario is crude. Kaliel is painted as this pure, lovely, virginal character whose touch makes flowers grow; but once she thinks about her boyfriend those flowers turn to weeds. And whilst Krishani corrupts her, her presence only improves his magical abilities. It's a very repressive view of female sexuality.
The dialogue is fairly flat and uninspiring, but that's because the characters are often under-developed. For instance, there are three condescending witches who come across as evil schemers. Various elders are slightly bossy and secretive, mostly wise but otherwise nondescript. And Kaliel's friend Pux is a playful, hairy feorn who is reluctant to grow up. None of the characters are sly or multifaceted enough to be interesting, and they all tend to show their true faces as soon as they're introduced. So when dramatic things finally do happen during the last chapters it doesn't have the impact it's meant to. The villain steps out and plants wilt and rot where he walks, in a display of unrelenting, uninspiring badness. But by then I had stopped caring about any of the characters.
12th February 2013
If you like this, try:Shadowmagic by John Lenahan
Conor is a normal student who finds himself transported to a land of myth, legend, and backchatting topiary.
Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
Five young sisters escape to a secret life of magic and dancing once a month, but adult responsibilities and dangers threaten to ruin it.
Lost by Gregory Maguire
A blocked author comes to London to write a ghost story. But is she haunted by her own spectres?
Review © Ros Jackson
Add your thoughtsAll comments are pre-moderated. Please do not post spoilers or abusive language.