Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: Half of the Percheron Trilogy, by Fiona McIntosh

"Joreb, the zar (or ruler) of Percheron, is well served by his military leader, the handsome Lazar, who fought his way to freedom from slavery. When Joreb dies an untimely death, Boaz—Joreb's 15-year-old son by his beautiful, intelligent and ambitious first wife—becomes zar"
-amazon.com product page

First up, a disclaimer: I only made it through all of the first book and a bit of the second book of this trilogy. Which I guess give you a clue about what I thought of it.
Ah Fiona McIntosh, what do I do with you? Our relationship started out so well. I always love reading fantasy by Australian writers, partly because I’m as patriotic as the next gal, but also because it seems to a genre that Australian writers are good at. And certainty the first trilogy I read by McIntosh, The Quickening trio, was true to that. Those books put a nicely original spin on a reliable old fantasy story line, and the characters were complex and the plot well paced. The ending was a little to convenient for my liking, but not enough that it spoiled the books for me.
This was the second trilogy McIntosh had published, so of course I went out and got a hold of her first effort, The Trinity trilogy. It was… not so good. The characters were walking cliché’s and the plot treated logic like an untrustworthy stranger. But I was forgiving, there was such a difference in quality between The Quickening and these books that I simply assumed McIntosh was improving as a writer with every effort.
Having struggled though half the Percheron trilogy before giving up, I’m starting to think maybe The Quickening was a fluke. The Percheron trilogy, or at least the half I read, was terrible. The only positive thing I can think to say about them is that the cover art is truly spectacular. But then I just get all resentful that such poor books get to have such beautiful covers.
Let’s start with the most important element in a book: the characters. We have the Odalisque Ana, the beautiful girl with mysterious ancestry. Did I mention she was beautiful? Little chance of forgetting, as we are reminded almost every time she appears on stage, and other characters are forever stopping to marvel at just how gosh darn beautiful and captivating she is. She is also kind to small children and animals, and when she sees an old lady being ripped off in the street she immediately jumps in and helps her. (The old lady, natch, turns out to be a Goddess in disguise and gives Anna a magical trinket in exchange for her kindness).
We also have the head of the Zar’s security, Lazar (It's not a coincidence and not very clever that his name sounds so much Lazarus...). Lazar and Ana fall in love instantly, even though she’s barely a teenager and he’s well into his thirties when they first meet. Lazar is moody and mysterious and handsome, women want to be with him, men want to be him, etc. He’s also prone to self pity and petulance, but I think this angst is supposed to make us like him more. Spoiler: it does not.
The only character who is not two shades away from being a Mary Sue is Boaz, the young Zar. Unfortunately McIntosh devotes little time to Boez, and while I obviously don’t know how the book progresses it seems to me that we are supposed to dislike him because, gasp, he wants to have sex with Ana! How dare the Zar want to get it on with a member of his own harem, am I right?
And the plot? You could make an excellent drinking game out of it. Every time destiny gets mentioned, drink. I promise you’ll be seeing double before you’re half way through the first book. Characters who are meeting for the first time decide to trust each other because they sense it's destiny. They make huge leaps of understanding not because they uncover information but because they just know, somehow. It’s appallingly lazy writing. Oh, I can’t think of a reason why character A. would reveal his big secret to character B. I’ll just make it destiny!
In the end I announced to my boyfriend that if I read the word destiny one more time I was putting the book down for good. I barely made it another page.
Maybe the final book fully redeemed all of these flaws, but I doubt even Neil Gaiman could salvage something out of it. (I mean, I haven't even touched upon the the rampant Orientalism or Boaz's mother...)
How did I get these books? I bought them. (Yes, all three... Sigh) 

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