Science fiction and fantasy
by Steve Cash
When Zianno Zezen turns 12 in May 1881, he discovers that he's different from the rest of humanity. He does not get sick, and is blessed with almost supernatural powers of healing. On top of that he does not age, and could be stuck in the body of a 12-year-old for centuries. Zianno is one of the Meq, an ancient and secretive race of incredibly long-lived people.
The Meq follows Zianno's quest to discover more about himself following the untimely death of his parents. He is taken in by a stranger, Solomon, who takes him to St. Louis. Zianno is keen to find others of his kind, but they prove extremely elusive. At the same time he has to keep on the move in order to avoid attracting too much attention due to his own perpetual childhood.
Zianno's quest for truth turns into a hunt for revenge when he comes to the attention of a rogue Meq assassin known as the Fleur-du-Mal. His search takes him around the world, involving large tracts of China and Africa as well as America and England, and spans several decades. This opens up the opportunity for a lot of historical detail, but unfortunately much of this detail is given in the form of name drops. Mentioning Jesse James, Oscar Wilde and T.S. Eliot does not magically transform flat prose into an authentic and convincing story. The author drops names as though introducing an unlikely number of meetings with famous people will somehow make the reclusive Meq more believable, but it has the opposite effect. After the first few it just gets progressively more ridiculous.
The Meq tend to resemble each other, both in their looks and their personalities, to the extent that they blend together into one forgettable group. They also share a peculiar, stilted way of talking. For instance, "Usoa and I seek the evil one. Let that be that." and "You are Meq, you are Egizahar Meq. Learn your Stone. The Stones speak; we are silent."
The Meq are an original creation, and one thing this novel can't be accused of is being derivative. But as a race they are a little like vampires without the malevolence, the fangs, or the sexuality. In other words, they're missing all the fun of immortality. Zianno himself is bland and insipid, and his relationships with both Meq and ordinary people lack the kind of fire that would make what happens to him worth caring about.
The novel does pick up a little in the middle, but at the main character wanders from place to place there is always the sense that the plot, too, is somewhat aimless and the reader is being taken on a poorly planned journey. Rather than a dramatic structure that builds up to a pinnacle of tension towards the end of the book, followed by some brief scenes to tie up the loose ends, the ending is all over the place. The story ebbs and flows almost at random, punctuated by interminable musings that aspire to deepness but only manage to sound trite. Tearful departures and reunions threaten to overwhelm the ending in a flood of mawkishness. The Meq is hard to read due to poor writing technique and lacklustre characters. It's an unimpressive novel.
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