Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Review: 'Percepliquis' by Michael J Sullivan

It's always special when you reach the end of a series, particularly one which was planned from the start, rather than growing organically. The mysteries will make sense, questions will be answered, characters will receive their dues and loose ends will be tied up, or so one hopes. And on the downside, it's likely some characters will die, perhaps even major ones, and it's always possible the ending will ruin the whole series. Fortunately, Sullivan ends on a high note. There are serious moments (but then the future of mankind is at stake), but he avoids the temptation to get too heavy or preachy, keeps the humour rolling and throws in some nice twists, although the ending is rather simplistic and overly sentimental.

Percepliquis pulls together virtually all the main characters into one questing group - a Fellowship of the Horn, as it were. Some of them didn't seem like main characters before, and I'm not sure they were all necessary to the outcome, but they have all been around pretty much from the start of the series. As with all six of the books, the plot of this one is fairly stand-alone, even though much of it builds on what has gone before. And as with them all, it's not always clear at the time who is manipulating events and who is acting under false pretences. Things are never quite what they seem. I can't imagine anyone would read this book without having read the previous five, because there's a lot of backstory to keep in mind, but the author does a pretty good job of filling in the necessary details.

I like my fantasy to surprise me, but actually there weren't too many surprises here. Maybe the foreshadowing was a little heavy-handed, or maybe my reread paid off, but most of the twists and turns were to some extent predictable. There were only a couple of moments that came out of the blue (but they were both terrific - very satisfying and making perfect sense). And yes, almost all of the questions were answered, there were deaths, but largely it played out as expected. Some of the reveals felt a little too contrived, there was a heavy layer of sentimentality everywhere, and there was a walk-on part for almost every character who survived the previous five books, but on the whole it worked pretty well. The author's writing reached a new high for this book; the poems worked well, the archaic language was much better than before and the dreams fitted perfectly, a hard trick to pull off. Even the romantic interludes were better. And the Royce/Hadrian banter and sniping was extended to the whole questing group, which was great fun and perfectly in keeping with their characters.

What didn't work? Well, the whole elf destruction routine felt very over the top. They were provoked, no denying it, but trying to kill every last human seems an excessive response. And given how powerful they were, their methods seemed a bit haphazard. The search for the underground Percepliquis was heavily redolent of the Mines of Moria in Lord of the Rings, with the pause to decide which of three passages to take, Arista cast in the Gandalf role, the Ghazel playing the orcs, and even a Balrog-type fire beastie being summoned. Fortunately, no one quite said 'Fly, you fools'.  And at the end of it, the ruined city of Percepliquis was - well, ruined, and (for me) not terribly interesting. 

I'm still not a fan of Arista. I understand what the author has tried to do with her development, and some of it is successful - she's not the whiny aristocrat any more, and seeing Alric again emphasizes just how far she's come. But she still can't manage to do anything by herself, even magic, without a man rescuing her or at the least holding her hand. Of the other characters, Royce is the most complex and therefore interesting, and Hadrian the shining foil to his darkness. Myron is a truly wonderful character, who comes into his own in this book. And even Magnus makes his peace with the world.

Eventually, all is revealed, and the ending is satisfying, although a bit too cute. There were a few implausibilities necessary to make it work, but on the whole everything fitted rather well. As with the whole series, an enjoyable, pacy read, page-turningly good, entertaining rather than deeply profound, although this final episode had more finesse than its predecessors. A good four stars.

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