I finally finished it last Sunday morning while sitting in my optometrist’s waiting room.
I think that pretty much says volumes about this book, but oh, I have volumes more to say about it. Shit, the book never seemed to end, so I reckon I can give y’all a taste of my pain with this review.
(Side note: Yeah, I know, it didn’t appear in the sidebar for the longest time because I’m a lazy bitch who doesn’t update the “What I’m Reading” bit very often.)
(Side side note: Vera, in spite what this review may imply, I think you’re awesome. If this review pisses you off, feel free to a) say and think very unkind things about my appalling literary tastes, and b) make extensive use of Monica Jackson’s Author Calming Visualization Aid. I’d also be the first to admit I’m a nitpicky, bitter cow with a chunk of coal in my breast instead of a heart.)
The setting and concept are pretty cool, and not something I’ve encountered in literature before. The story takes place in an alternate reality which lacks all color. That’s right: it’s all shades of grey in this here joint. It wasn’t always like this; apparently all the color deities, the Tilirr, fled the world and took all color with them when the last king, Alliran Monteyn, was placed into Snow White-style stasis. At least, I think this was when the world lost its colorâ€”the book is long, y’all, and I fell asleep many, many, many times while reading it.
What’s interesting is that while reading the book, I kept assigning color values to the landscape and the characters without any prompting; it wasn’t until I was well into the book that I started viewing the scenes in black and white on any consistent basis. I really liked this aspect the book, mostly because I like books that mess with my head and make me re-think perceptions and expectations.
The story opens when Our Intrepid Heroine, Ranheas Ylir, stumbles upon an what seems to be an assassination attempt on some aristocrats travelling in a coach. Since she’s a mercenary who holds dual PhDs in Asskickology and Bad-Ass Mofonics, she wades into the fray and saves some nobleman (and noblewomen) ass.
The nobleman is Lord Elasand Vaeste, whose wig in the realm of bigwigs is very large indeed. Well, OK, he doesn’t wear a wig, he just has long black hair with a totally gay-ass white streak running through it, which just makes me think of bad anime hair, which then makes me think of bad anime eyes, so I ended up picturing Elasand as a character from cheesy-ass yaoi art.
Ahem. Back to the story. Anyway, there’s intrigue afoot and he’s off for some Hush-Hush Bigwig Meetings with the Regent, but since he’s all tricksy and shit, he’s using his cousin’s upcoming wedding as an excuse to go to the capital city and visit the Court. He tries to hire Ranheas because even though he’s tricksy, he’s also a dumbass and set off on the journey with no guards, just a driver whom the assassins turned into hamburger right away. Ranheas, however, blows him off. Why? ‘Cause she’s a free spirit, man. *beatnik snaps*
But their paths cross again at an inn down the road. And of course Ranheas finally signs on to be his bodyguard. And for no discernible reason at all, falls in love with Elasand.
At this point I’m smacking my head against the book, because I hatesssss it when a character falls in love for no discernible reason. I mean, literally, at this point, the chick has spoken, like, ten sentences to the guy. There are a couple of stories that manage pull off this sort of Instant Lurve without making me want to hit all the characters involved with a dead fish, but they are few and far between indeed. Most of the time, I don’t buy this sort of scenario.
When they arrive at the capital city, there’s more skullduggery ahoy, including another foiled assassination attempt and the presence of strange emissaries from Qurthe, a heretofore unknown country far to the south. The soldiers seem able to kill without touching anyone, and the leader of the emissaries, Lord Araht Vorn, is particularly menacing. Dude is Big, Bad and Black, mang. The pussy-ass Regent is in a panic, and there’s some ill-defined but vaguely ominous fuckery going on with the various Guilds in the city which is sending the His Wimpy Uselessness into a tailspin, too.
In the meanwhile, interspersed with the actual story are an excruciatingly detailed description of the city’s layout and a painful, Robert Altman-esque (I HATE ROBERT ALTMAN RAR) slice-of-life montage, as we are introduced to a dizzying array of characters who populate the city. The action isn’t slowed down so much as crunched thoroughly into a pulp and left for dead on the side of the highway. I persevered through all this deluge of words, hoping and hoping for a payoff andâ€¦ nothing. Most of the characters introduced in this section of the book? You’ll get maybe a couple paragraphs about them later on. It all basically reads like a massive infodump, and I am not a big fan of infodumping unless it’s geeky science shit. Neal Stephenson gets a pass, but not many other authors do.
So yeah, the Court has been overrun with freaky-ass people who claim to be emissaries to the Lord of the Dark and the City of Twilight, invasion seems imminent, the Regent is useless, Ranheas meets the head of the Assassins’ Guild, Elassir, under intimate and embarrassing circumstances, Elasand figures out that they need to seek help from the Tilirr, Elassir, Elasand and Ranheas set off on a mini-quest, and Shit Finally Happens. Slowly, because it takes Ranheas almost a friggin’ page to move two steps since the narration is weighed down with so much descriptive prose and internal musing, but it happens. The ending, when it finally, finally arrives, is predictableâ€”c’mon, there’s a handsome young king in stasis, and his death was associated with the loss of color in the world, so just take a guess as to what happens by the end of the book.
OK, bagging so much on the plot is kind of unfair. I’ve read and loved books in which not much at all happens, but the beauty of the prose carries it through. The Riders by Tim Winton, for example, is a quintessential example of this sort of book.
This book’s prose drove me apemonkey bonkers.
First of all, I have never seen such rampant italic abuse in a book. Every color noun is italicized, including the word “color.” This is a problem when color words are used with distressing frequency. The various noble houses have colors associated with them, for example, and the Light Guild is able to re-create monochrome colored lights. The names of the Tilirr (of which there are six, one for each color of the rainbow) are all italicized, too, as are the pronouns associated with them. The Tilirr make many, many appearances in the book, and every time they do, a regular orgy of italicized words ensues as every friggin’ variation and shade of color associated with the Tilirr shows up and jiggles its ass on the page. (No, not literallyâ€”I might’ve been able to work through this book faster if there had been more ass jigginess, but alas, that was not meant to be.)
Throw in the occasional italics used for emphasis, and I ended up reading this book with some really fucked-up diction. I elect William Shatner as the narrator for the audio book, because that’s who I heard in my head every time those damn italics showed up.
For what it’s worth, I get why the colors are italicized. I get the point, and I noticed when the italics were no longer being used. I just don’t think it was a particularly useful point to make, and its awkwardness far outweighed anything else.
And the dialogueâ€¦ Egad, the dialogue. Let me give you an example of how people talk in this book:
“I feel sorry for it, Ma!” the little girl said suddenly. “Neither man nor womanâ€”no matter how beautiful, I wouldn’t wanna be like tha’! And I’m scared, Ma! I’m scared of it!”
So that’s an example of what the unwashed masses sound like. Here’s the nobility, showing us how quick on their feet they are in a crisis:
“Master Marihke!” he spoke in a stumbling manner. “And the rest of you! Pardon me, but you must go look outside.”
“What is it?” responded Marihke.
But Ukrt’s eyes were terrified. “Look outside, Masters!” he was saying. “Come now, quickly, look outside at the sky!”
“Indeed!” said Elasand, coming out of his distracted state. “This is the reason I’ve come here in the first place. There is something unusual happening outside! Come, all of you!”
If it had been me, I would’ve trampled over Elasand and gone outside already, because woo damn, when there’s an emergency, I’m going to get my ass moving pronto instead of waiting for some aristo with bad anime hair to tell me to get my ass moving.
But then, I’m the same heathen who thinks J.R.R. Tolkien needed lessons in dialogue writing too, so take this peeve with a grain of salt.
By far the most distracting aspect of the prose was the rampant adjectivitis. I’d be the first to admit that I, too, suffer from adjectivitis, which is a subset of a larger syndrome known as Modifierosis Nervosa. But this bookâ€¦ Oof. Nary a noun goes unmodified. Adjectives are stacked wantonly atop one another, snuggling up against each other without so much as a comma to separate them. Check these two examples out:
In the center, a little toward the back wall, stood a raised stone altar, in the form a large simply hewn crude stone with a somewhat concave surface, round like a very shallow wide bowl.
(â€¦) Ranhe, following him as asked, saw tears glistening in his pale lapis ancient young eyes.
These are the memorably bad ones, but I’m not kidding when I say that almost all the nouns in this book are modified, often with two or more adjectives. Really, Rebecca Brandewyne should get ahold of this book post-haste.
The book is also littered with verbal tics. The one that bugged me the most was the way so many sentences started with “For.” The “for” was largely unnecessary, and their proliferation became especially bad towards the end of the book, as if it was spawning season for them.
But I will say this much about the book: the heroine is very unusual. For one, she’s a vegetarian. Not something I’ve seen much in fiction, unless they’re bad hippie-dipshit caricatures. And for another thing, she’s allowed to be unattractive in a really unusual way. Minor spoiler:
She has hair! Like, all over! Including her face! Dude, this chick needs to shave daily. Oh, and her feet stink.
It takes courage and skill to create a heroine like Ranheas, and she really stood out.
Unfortunately, I found all the other characters kind of annoying or completely undeveloped. Elasand? I wanted to smack him. Elassir, the head of the Assassins’ Guild? Not quite as annoying, but I still wanted to smack him. And don’t even get me started on the other characters, like the Regent and this poet laureate who’s a minor character but who really got on my tits every time he appeared. It’s not a good sign when I end up rooting for the bad guy and fervently hoping everyone perishes in a big, bloody battle, then feel peevish when not as many of the so-called good guys died as I had hoped.
So, in summary: cool concept, and I really liked Ranheas’ asskickiness (well, aside from her inexplicable love for Elasand). The rest of the book? GAH.