Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Fantasy DNF: 'Spirit Gate' by Kate Elliott

Spirit Gate (Crossroads, #1)

I love this book. Or perhaps I should say - I did love this book, for a whole two chapters. It featured a wonderful, independent, self-assured female protagonist, who was completely comfortable in her own skin. Hurrah! A character I could really root for!

And then she’s never seen again. She existed for a whole two chapters purely to motivate a male character, who then mopes and whines and drinks and whinges (while also enjoying himself with other women) for (get this) nineteen years. I was so mad I almost gave up on the book altogether at that point. But OK, there are some points of interest in miserable Joss. His job, for instance, which requires him to ride a giant eagle (cool or what?). His friends are intriguing, too. And the world-building is detailed and interesting, although the author insists on hitting us over the head with endless minutiae. So, fine, I’m grumpy about losing my female protagonist, but I’m along for the ride.

And then we switch yet again to some other part of the world, which isn’t even on the map (aaargh!), and we have a whole other culture to learn about, and a new set of characters - quiet Mai, who’s deeper than she looks, her mysterious new husband Anji, and Mai’s uncle Shai, who’s - well, stupid is the first word that comes to mind. And they’re trekking endlessly and for no obvious reason through trackless desert, while periodically being attacked by bandits, sandstorms and demons. Why? What are they even doing there? Why are there no sensible roads between one populated part of the world and another?

It’s an odd thing, but in fantasy a group of travellers can never cross a desert without being hit by a sandstorm. You can bet they will run out of water as well, and only find an oasis in the nick of time. If they pass through hill country, they’ll be attacked by bandits. And any journey undertaken in winter will encounter a terrific snowstorm. If the author had cut out all this extraneous travelling and contrived drama, and just skipped to the real action, the book would be a quarter of its length, but it would rattle along nicely.

So here we are at 30% of the way through, and we’re still travelling endlessly with Captain Anji and Mai and Shai, no sign of the interesting eagle riders, and all that’s happened is that Mai has been inexplicably smitten with love for her dull husband, Shai is learning to use a spear and…zzzzzzz. What? Sorry, hard to stay awake. Oh yes, and nice Captain Anji has been keeping Very Big Secrets from his wife.
You know what? I don’t care. I just can’t get invested in any of these characters. I know something’s going to happen eventually, and I totally approve of epic fantasy that sprawls itself over whole continents at a glacial pace if it has depth (which this has), but it also has to have characters that carry the story. For me, these just don’t cut it, not when the most promising one was written out after two chapters. Lots of people love this series, and I’ve been told that this book gets better at the halfway point, but I just don’t have the will to keep going. One star for a DNF.

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