Sunday, 30 March 2014

Fantasy Review (DNF): Children of Sun and Moon by Matt Larkin

When I have a problem reading a book, it’s rarely the obvious things that bother me. Well, bad grammar and spelling, of course, but that’s usually glaringly obvious within a couple of pages, so it’s easy to avoid. Cardboard characters, trite plots, over-reliance on action, poor dialogue, info-dumps – I might criticise a book for these flaws but they rarely cause me to give up on it. No, what does it for me is implausibility. It’s ironic, in a genre like fantasy that is absolutely dependent on arcane powers, creatures and entire worlds that don’t (and can’t) exist. I’m quite happy to read about wizards and elves and dragons and all sorts of whatchamacallits, but show me an inconsistency and I’m likely to toss the book against the wall. And so it is with this one.

First, the good stuff. The world-building here is awesome, without qualification. The setting is eastern, with sarongs and teahouses and satay and forms of martial arts, and that’s all very cool. It never feels derivative, though, because there’s a very ingenious magic system based around the moon and sun. One society in this world (known as Skyfall) worships and derives power from the moon, the other from the sun. Rather neatly, those powers are very fitting: the moon powers, if overused, cause the user to go mad (lunatic, get it?); sun power users can move instantaneously, like a sunbeam. It’s all very well thought out. There are some good action scenes, which are very well described, and the Lunar and Solar powers give these an unusual twist. There are some interesting characters, particularly Marin the... well, not sure what he was. Were-tiger?

Now for some so-so stuff. The settings are never very well described. The Solar people live in an amazing crystal underwater city, and I really wanted to spend some time just walking around such an unusual place to get a feel for it. Sadly the plot races on, so there’s never a chance to linger. Then there are the characters. Chandi, the female main character, starts the book by helping to kill her betrothed. Yet she moves on from that with scarcely a thought about him, and he’s quickly forgotten altogether. Ratna is another important female character, the daughter of the Lunar leader, married off to the Solar Emperor to cement a tenuous peace. I really wanted to know how she felt about that, how she got on with her husband, whether she felt used or betrayed. Yet she seemed very unemotional and accepting about it. I’d have liked to get to know the Emperor, too.

And then the problems. A number of things happen without sensible reasons. By sensible, I mean things that make sense within the world. Obviously authors can make up whatever rules they want for their worlds, but internal consistency is paramount. Here are some examples that failed for me. In the very first chapter, a Lunar character has over-used his powers and gone mad (lunatic). Chandi reports him and is sent off to kill him. But she is weaker in combat than he is, and only outside help manages to do the job. Since lunacy is a well-recognised problem, with a standard penalty (execution) it makes no sense to use one-on-one combat to carry it out. The state would surely have devised a more appropriate legal arrangement (with a trial, possibly? Just a suggestion). The fight makes for a great scene, but it’s quite illogical.

Another example. When Chandi and Ratna arrive at the Solar capital, they are greeted by Naresh (the male main character), riding some kind of sea monster. But he isn’t a member of the elite guard who usually do this, and someone else has to control the monster for him. Why then was he sent? The only reason is that the author needed to introduce him into the story.

Yet another example. Ratna, now the Emperor’s wife, wants to take her child to watch some celebration. The pair set off through the crowded city escorted only by Naresh and Chandi (who spend the whole time studiously pretending they’re not going to end up together by the end of the book). And the city isn’t friendly, since there was a previous assassination attempt. No, I don’t think so. Two of the most important people in the city, just wandering round in the crowd? Two people who, if killed, would precipitate a war?

This was the point where I gave up. For those who aren’t bothered by this and don’t mind the rather episodic and jerky telling of the story, this is an interesting attempt at something out of the ordinary. I got 20% of the way through, and it may be that some of the issues mentioned are addressed later in the book. It just didn’t work for me, however. One star for a DNF.

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