This Week, I Read… (2022 #4)

#10 – Through Wolf’s Eyes, by Jane Lindskold

  • Rating: 2/5 stars

This started off reasonably well but became tedious long before the end. I kept going in case the ending redeemed it and made me want to continue the series, but alas, it did not.

The characterization is good and most of the characters I liked, or at least liked to hate in a few cases. And I thought the gradual expansion of the cast of POV characters was a wise decision, to reflect Firekeeper’s growing circle of acquaintances; I thought so right up until the introduction of Prince Newell as a POV antagonist, because his scenes are dull, plodding, and expository, completely destroying any mystery about the political intrigue by walking the reader through exactly what he had planning. The second half of the book became a repetitive slog of “watch Newell’s latest scheme fail, then listen to him plot something else.”

The main question the plot was seeking to answer was the identity of the king’s heir, and the ending does resolve that. But long before the final pages we know at least one person it’s not going to be, and ultimately that knowledge robs the ending of any of its satisfaction. Once the heir was revealed, did I care? Not really.

Also, the political maneuvering on a personal level I often found intriguing–especially everything surrounding Elise–but on the macro level, I literally don’t understand why there was a war at the end of the novel. I reread the scene where the King decides to declare war twice, and I simply don’t follow the logic. Plus, calling one day-long battle a “war” felt more than a little silly, especially when the on-page battle is breezed through so fast that several named-but-not-major characters die on a single page, in neat little paragraphs summing up their final moments. There’s no drama. It read like someone checking items off a to-do list.

The world-building leaves a great many questions unanswered that will presumably be addressed in future works, but it did leave one hole that I also felt weakened the plot: sorcery. So much of Elise’s subplot is tied up in the debate over whether sorcery is real or not, and whether the curse she and several other people believe themselves to be under is magic or merely suggestion. I actually liked that wrinkle; but treating magic so lightly in the narrative, leaving it open to question, undermines the reason for the “war” at the end of the story (which I already thought was weak to begin with.) The reasoning behind the battle, as much as I understand it, has to do with sorcery being very real and very dangerous, which I felt was inconsistent with the tone of Elise’s plot.

I think this had some interesting ideas and fun characters, but the plot needed fine-tuning, the overall style needed some editing for clarity and length, and the ending needed to feel more impactful.

#11 – The Murders of Molly Southbourne, by Tade Thompson

  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I almost set this aside after the first few pages, intending to delete it from my TBR like I never intended to read it: I’m thattired of protagonists with amnesia.

I can’t say exactly what made me keep going. Something about it was compelling even under the weight of my personal bias, and when the flow of the narrative abruptly changed, I became hooked.

I don’t usually say “hooked” about something I rate at two stars. The compliment that I can give this novella without reservation is that it’s exceptionally well-paced.

Ultimately, though, I don’t know what the point was. At different times during the story I could feel the hand of the author pressing my nose to the page (metaphorically, it was my phone) and asking, “See? See what I’m getting at here?” But the answer was always no. I didn’t get it. Even with a day to reflect before writing this review, I still don’t get it. A few stray bits of story, coupled with a few things Molly said, seemed anti-natalist, but without knowing more about the author I doubt that’s the intention. Other things suggested a different flavor of existential despair, and at one point–sadly I don’t remember what made me think this, exactly–I wondered if the symbolism was anti-abortion. Which doesn’t square with the possible anti-natalism at all, and that’s why I question if I’m reading in between the lines correctly. I doubt I am. I found the thematic underpinnings of this little SF/horror tale to be murky at best.

I didn’t realize until I came to write the review that there were sequels, but in this case I don’t think knowing that would have changed my expectations of the story. It has an ending, one that is narratively satisfactory (if not thematically, because I still don’t know what the point was.) It’s possible to use that ending as a cliffhanger, but not necessary to; I felt it was complete and don’t have any complaints about it specifically.

On a personal note, this is yet another strike in the long line of “I got this ebook free from Tor’s newsletter and I didn’t like it much.” I actually noticed that pattern a while ago and stopped downloading them last year, though I’ve still got a backlog to get through. What is it about modern SF/F that I’m not grokking? Because it seems like everyone else likes them…

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