I probably wouldn’t have given quite such a low score if I had have read this before, say, Eragon, or Croggon’s The Gift, or just about anything by Eddings or Kay or Jordan or Feist or Goodkind, but, sheesh, enough already. It’s not any worse than these, most of which I’ve rated higher, but I’m glutted. I’m not saying I don’t like fantasy (get out of here - Martin, Gemmell, Wolfe and more do some great stuff). I’m just get less and less able to deal with carbons like this. The characters and settings are wafer thin. It’s not really enough to say you’re original if you replace the clichéd dragon (but they don’t have to be clichéd – Pratchett as just one example) with a griffin – which essentially functions in precisely the same way. The plot wanders along, bruising you with the unsubtle clues/turns. The hero acts like yet another petulant teenager – there’s no layering or maturity. The style is bland – we need sensational events to try to keep our interest, but even those aren’t narrated in a gripping way. It’s supposed to be this tough medieval world, but there’s no sting in the violence – there’s no potency (Jack London or Robert E. Howard are just in another league).
I gave it 200 pages, but no more. If you haven’t already read more than a half dozen fantasies and/or you’re still at school, you might still be in a position to enjoy, or even relish, this. I probably would have. But not now.
It just happened the next book I grabbed was a Daniel Silva. Haven’t read him before, but it was so refreshing after the Taylor – “Ahhhhh, something for grown-ups,” particularly in terms of scene setting. It might go downhill [sadly, it did –ed.], but just the first chapter was such a contrast. Get this, for example – here is one of the first changes of scene, a village out of the city where a major turning point happens. I’ll glean every bit of description we get of this new location:
Eluna was the first to see their destination on the horizon. ‘There!’ she called…. ‘Rivermeet,’ she said simply.
… Arren watched the village approach.. People started running up to them as soon as they landed.
Taylor doesn’t even try to evoke say, a village, or, for that matter, a villager – she just expects you to do the work for her. Or not, they don’t matter, blurry stereotypes are fine – you’re just meant to sit up on top of the shallow action. Contrast this with someone actually bothering to evoke a scene, perhaps even with mood – this from the Silva:
The Villa dei Fiori, a thousand acre estate in the rolling hills between the Tiber and Nira rivers, had been a possession of the Gasparri familiy since the days when Umbria was still ruled by the popes. There was a large and lucrative cattle operation and an equestrian center that bred some of the finest jumpers in all of Italy. There were pigs no one ate and a flock of goats kept solely for entertainment value. There were khaki coloured fields of hay, hillsides ablaze with sunflowers, olive groves that produced some of Umbria’s best oil, and a small vinyard that contributed several hundred pounds of grapes each year to the cooperative. On the highest part of the land lay a swath of untamed woods where it was not safe to walk because of the wild boar. Scattered round the estate were shrines to the Madonna, and, at an intersection of three dusty gravel roads, stood an imposing wood-carved crucifix. Everywhere, there were dogs. A quartet of hounds that roamed the pastures, devouring fox and rabbit, and a pair of neurotic terriors that patrolled the perimeter of the stables with the fervour of holy warriors.
Ahhhh. It’s not even necessarily that Taylor’s scenes had to
be nuanced (although that would have been nice), but that she’d even bothered
to try creating them. There’s a level of laziness about the book – no need to
redraft any kinks – and occasionally it stings. Like a guy who is the Master of
Trade, and a Griffiner (awkward title much?) – the top of the tree – welcome to
skim off whatever he likes in contraband (and just after a huge take) – who
can’t come up with 200 oblongs (or whatever the basic unit of currency is).
That might be OK – maybe 200 oblongs is, like 200 000 or something (I mean, a
Griffin sells for something like that – surely at least the equivalent of a
supercar in value). But then Arren, low on cash, casually throws a kid an
oblong. That’d be like $100. Or going the other way – if it’s a more plausible
tip of $1 – then that means his frightening death debt price is a mere $200.
This would be loose change for one of the richest, most privileged people in
the city. Taylor sort of maybe realises a bit later that it’s a bit iffy that
the Master of Trade was so hard up for cash, so as an afterthought she throws
in that he had a mortgage. Because it would be too hard to go back with the
word processor and add or subtract a couple of zeroes, or invent a smaller
Whatever, she has a wry go at Tolkien, saying she doesn’t take her inspiration from him, but, “from G.R.R. Martin and Finnish Metal.” She’s still happy to pump out the definitively Tolkienesque doorstop sized trilogy – but not to take the time he did to bother with depth and detail – or even with consistency and fluid plot building. Tolkien simply needed that many pages to tell his single, actually quite tight, story. Martin, sure, is far more profligate when it comes to plot which, at worst, can stray into soap opera, but when he’s good, he’s very good, which does much to ameliorate his weaknesses. Taylor earns no such dispensations, and suffers from her own comparison to either author. I mean, I play soccer (in the lowest division in a rural over 35s comp), but it would be a bit absurd for me to say, “Oh, I don’t take my inspiration from Messi – for me it’s more about Lahm.” What makes Martin Martin is not merely that he allows some of his heroes to have uncharacteristic misfortune – he also actually can write.