Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Fantasy Review: 'The Heart of the Mirage' by Glenda Larke

Heart of the Mirage (Mirage Makers, #1)

So here we are in the Roman Empire - sorry, no, not the Roman Empire, definitely not, this is fantasy after all. This is Tyrans, nothing to do with Rome. But - centurians and latin-esque names and so forth. Well. For some people, it doesn’t much matter, but for me I prefer the ‘vaguely inspired by’ type of world-building, rather than ‘pretty damn close’, with a few novelties thrown in. So that’s the first hurdle, a not terribly imaginative backdrop to the action.

The second problem is the main character, Ligea, a woman from recently subdued Kardiastan, taken as a child and brought up as the adopted daughter of a famous general. When you realise how much her compatriots are despised, the arrogance of the Tyranians and also that slavery is legal, this strikes me as an extraordinary thing to do, to take a foreign child into your house and raise her as your own. Even when the reasons for it become clear, it's pretty silly. It makes her a peculiar mixture: she has the arrogance of her adoptive land, as well as education, and an unquestioning acceptance of the ways of the victors, believing that slavery, for instance, is perfectly sensible and proper, yet she’s still seen as a foreigner.

Now there’s nothing wrong with the setup, it’s an interesting scenario, but it makes Ligea a horribly unlikeable character. It also makes it blindingly obvious when, in chapter 1, she is told she is to go to Kardiastan, that she’s going to have a revelation and realise the error of her ways, rediscover her roots and all that. That’s fine, so long as the way she gets there is convoluted and filled with unexpected twists. And there are some twists, it has to be said, but all the interest (for me) lies in the relationships between Ligea and her slaves and the people she meets in Kardiastan. The plot, such as it is, never really rises above the ho-hum, although there are one or two nice reveals along the way.

The other characters are quite interesting, more interesting than Ligea herself, in fact, and at least some of them behave logically and sensibly, unlike her. She seems to follow her emotions when it suits the plot and logic at other times. I liked her best when she was reading the books helpfully provided by the Mirage and working things out for herself, using the incisive brain we were told about many times, but rarely saw.

The magic - sigh. Yes, let's talk about the magic. This is one of those worlds where those select few who have magical capability can do pretty much anything they want with it, except things that would make the plot too simple. They have to learn how to use it, and there is a price to be paid for it, but sometimes it seemed as if, whenever there was a crisis, someone would say - but didn't you know, you can just do X? And Ligea does X, and lo, she is saved. Well, that's not really very interesting.

Once we get away from Rome - sorry, Tyrans, and into Kardiastan, the world-building perks up a bit. The Shiver Sands and the Mirage are fantastic creations, and the author is always wonderfully inventive with animal life. I loved the gorclaks and shleths, and the descriptions brought everything - the buildings, the people, their clothes, even the earth - to glorious life. And if the plot went on pretty much as predicted, still it was fun and a dramatic ride.

But the ending - that was a real bummer. I expected, or at least hoped, that there would be some *emotional* resolution, some conclusion at least to the relationships tangle even if the plot rumbles on into book 2. But no, Ligea reverts to her illogical, and (frankly) downright stupid self, and there's an all-too-convenient bit of arm-waving regarding one of her slaves, presumably for plot-related reasons. Sorry, but you can’t just say ‘X had changed’ so everything’s suddenly all right. It was very disappointing. I've already bought the rest of the series, so I'll undoubtedly read it at some time, but I'm not in a rush. Three stars.

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