Monday, July 18, 2005

The Ruins of Ambrai, by Melanie Rawn

Yarg! Reminds me of Celia Dart Thornton and her unending dictionary descriptions of irrelevant rooms, only here it seems to be pocket 1-dimensional sketches of completely irrelevant characters. I swear I've been introduced to 200+ characters by name, almost none of whom I remember or care about because they're mostly walking stereotypes anyways. In fact, I was remarking on this very fact to myself just before reading the following line from the book:

"Veller Granfallin, for instance, figured as a villain in all the histories, but was never portrayed any more deeply than a layer of dust on the tabletop"

This, in addition to being a great example of the ridiculously over-the-top metaphorical language that seems to be required of modern fantasy, perfectly describes most of the forgettable characters in the book.

Which is a shame, really, because unlike Ms. Thornton, Ms. Rawn actually appears to have a story to tell. There is an interesting world here with an intriguing matriarchal society and some interesting political twists in an otherwise run-of-the-paper-mill evil wizards taking over the world story.

Or perhaps I should say there would be an interesting world and political twists if only the details held together at all, which they mostly don't. For example, the government is a representative democracy, but its leader has taken over enough power single-handedly to completely destroy one of the 15 member-states, apparently wihtout comment or protest from any of the others. So shes really an absolute dictator with a puppet government, right? But no, mere chapters later she is scrabbling for votes in council and not doing things because they might be perceived badly. Hello? You just had every single man, woman, and child in California executed and every building in the state burnt to the ground, and you're pushing for votes in Congress about tax laws? Do whatever the hell you want; they obviously can't stop you. Which reminds me; she has the state of Ambrai invaded by the army because they attempt to thwart her. Ambrai was apparently one of the biggest economic and cultural centres on the planet and yet apparently every single person who lived there was killed or driven off, and noone even came back to loot the bodies - much less re-settle - for 17 years. That is so fantastically wildly improbable - both the efficiency of its destruction and the lack of resettlement - that I hadn't gotten over it before some refugees finally wander in and start living off the food left lying around 2 decades before! And in a world where we continuously get it pushed down our throats how poor and downtrodden the average peasant is!

It goes on (people risking their lives based on the assumption that an ancient nursery rhyme about pigs refers to a particular (modern) toy store; a matriarchy of Victorian-era sexism reversed, but with over a third of its prime governmental body males - and almost all of the members of the cult of bad guys; a Muslim-like stricture against males going outside with their heads uncovered... which is apparently followed by every other male in the society except all of the main characters; etc...) but I'll stop. The worst thing is that half the time the contradictory details weren't even necessary to the story - just leave them out and you're fine!

But I persevered, because I did at least want to see how the few more interesting characters got along, and see what happens with their little rebellion, and to find out how the evil baddie gets it in the end. Wish I hadn't bothered. The baddy gets eaten by the Ghost of Christmas Past (or some other previously unmentioned spirtual Deus Ex Machina plot device, I forget,) the baddy's henchman turns to good apropos of nothing and his daughter forgives him his extensive list of brutal butcheries on the basis of blood ties she didn't even know existed 5 minutes before, and the rebellion happens off camera with the good guys just turning up and shouting "Hurrah! We won!" The interesting characters? They fall in love and get married in direct contrast to everything they stood for up to that point - but thats fairly standard grade-school hair-pulling romance, and so the most believable thing by far about the end of the book.


Blogger A.R.Yngve said...

I like your reviews; amusing and to the point. (To read scathing reviews of bad novels is one of my guilty pleasures... "the villain gets all the best lines." :))

Tip: I have posted some of my old SF novels on my website... you are welcome to read and review those...

1:56 AM  
Blogger anti ob said...

Heh; not all my reviews are scathing, but for some reason I find that I have more to say about the bad ones. I think its because a good book really just needs me to say "you liked this; heres a rough sketch to remind you, but go back and read it again if you don't remember." The bad ones, on the other hand, often leave me so screamingly frustrated that I need a way to vent without boring my friends to tears, and I REALLY don't want to make the mistake of reading it - or very probably anything else by the same author - again.

1:14 AM  

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