Completed 10/17/2018, Reviewed 10/17/2018
This novel is a high fantasy that is driven by its world building, to the detriment of the plot. The magic system, the religion, the languages, and the map are examples of the intense thought and planning that went into this book. The plot, however, is simple. I began reading it, enjoying the prose, and the excitement of the beginning. But the prose soon became a snooze, with long descriptions of every place, the travelling of the main character, the tons of back stories. Normally, all these things would have made this a great book, but somehow it just didn’t come together for me. Still, it won the Lambda Literary Award for SF/Fantasy/Horror in 2001, and it has a pretty big fan base. I’m just not one of them.
The plot follows Jessex, a farm boy who is prophesied to be a shrine attendant for the exiled prince, Kirith Kirin. His uncle arrives to convey the prophesy and escort him to the forest where Kirith and his host are hiding from the queen and her evil magician. Religion is outlawed in the land, hence the hiding. He joins Kirith’s band and soon learns of another calling for himself, that of magician. He is taken under wing by three sisters who teach him the ways of magic in preparation for the arrival of a great magician, Yron. Soon, the evil magician’s forces are on the move to eliminate Kirith, and Jessex must decide whether or not to use his newly acquired powers before Yron arrives.
The narration is first person Jessex, but he is telling the story many years in the future. So even though he is fourteen when the story begins, the narration is that of a mature adult recollecting times long past. I think this is the downfall of the book. Though there is detail in the prose, there isn’t much in the way of emotional descriptions. The emotions are muted by time. We get to know Jessex, what he did and what he thought, but not truly what he felt. I had a hard time connecting with him because of this. Even when he falls in love with Kirith, we don’t get the full impact because we only get very small doses of his feelings. The same goes for the other characters, including Kirith. There wasn’t much emotional depth to them. They were simply place holders for action for the most part.
As I said in the beginning, the world building is phenomenal, sometimes too much so. There were so many names for persons, places, and things that I often got lost in the language. The names were complicated as well, and many of the names sounded alike. Only after getting through the whole book did I discover that there was a glossary at the end. In addition to the glossary, there are multiple appendices covering the religion, the calendar, the wars, and more. The world was very well thought out. But by the time I got to the appendices, I was more or less over the book, and didn’t read them too deeply.
I give the book three stars out of five. I recognize that there was a lot of energy that was put into the book and it shows. However, the plot wasn’t very complex and I found the prose to be boring. Particularly, the magic battles should have been a lot more engrossing than they were. Also, I believe the book would have benefited from less description of Jessex’s travels and more dialogue among the characters, we would have gotten a lot more character depth and I would have cared for them more.