Orson Scott Card
Card is such an ambitious writer – he doesn’t shy away from challenges that others might more wisely decline. Yet even in a project as almost certainly doomed as this (a white man trying to give his entirely contemporary black cast an authentic voice; embracing faery while still giving credibility to expressions of Christianity) he frequently produces some fabulous dialogue.
He also has some great ideas. Perhaps too many – I felt like the plot was becoming a bit unwieldy by the end. But while I’ll make some criticisms, I don’t want the flavour of this review to be negative: overall the good bits are that good that they overshadow some of the weaknesses. And some of the things that soured parts of the ride for me would have enhanced it for others. For example, the common ‘we’ve got to do some oogity-boogity stuff to save the world’ build to climax – almost an integral part of this genre – generally bugs me: goals don’t have to be quite so huge to be valid and gripping (often writers lazily raise the stakes of their plot as a shortcut to try to get people in, rather than raising the intensity of their writing – hence, for example, one of the more gripping narratives I’ve read was about completing a train trip, no guns or anything, in Haddon’s excellent The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time). Card is a good enough writer to not have to resort to such tricks (likewise Gemmell, who similarly weakens some his stories by moving beyond things that are important to a few characters (e.g. survival!), feeling on occasions he has to make it epoch changing). He does work hard to try to make his plot cohere – it’s not utterly random rubbish – but there still are too many rules he can just suddenly introduce in the climax (Why can a couple of standard bullets save the day? Why is Oberon – like any villain - just not quite powerful enough?). If you must have a save the world fantasy my favourite resolutions keep it really simple and striking (like Matrix 1 all hinging on that single twist – the red pill or the blue one, before it turned complex (read: stupid and rife with contradiction) in the next couple of films; or LOTR – we deceive the enemy by throwing away OUR power too, something he would be unable to conceive and, therefore, anticipate). Perhaps a reason why to this day just about every book of Card’s continues to declare on the cover ‘From the author of Ender’s Game’ is that this is one of his only books that worked back from an elegant, single solution (that, like the Matrix films, he complicated – generally to its detriment – in later books).
Sorry, I did say I wanted this to overall be a positive review. Because there are some wonderful ideas – mid the book I was relishing the places he was prepared to go with his characters. Also, as he does in book after book, he tries to imagine what goodness would look like as a human in the world. Childlike…. [and there I must have been interrupted and have only stumbled across this review years later – way too long to have any recollection of where I was going with it. That will have to do.]