Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: The Rai Kirah Trilogy, by Carol Berg

Alright, let's get this out the way straight up. That first cover is ridiculous. And not in a good way. I mean, who looked at that image of a scantily glad gentlemen with enormous green wings on a cliff top and thought, "yup, perfect." I mean, the covers for "Revelation" and "Restoration" aren't exactly awesome either, but compared to 'Transformation...' Yikes.

Which sucks. Because I suspect that that cover is bad enough to stop people from reading this book. Lord knows it came within an inch of stopping me. Which would have been my loss, because crap-tastic packaging aside, these books are surprisingly good.

Aleksander is the heir to an aggressive, conquering empire. Seyonne is a once proud warrior turned slave. Together, they fight crime! Ha, not really. Well, actually...

Ok, so Seyonne's people were this tiny, insular culture who have spent centuries waging a secret war against demon kind. They were the one thing holding back the hoard until, whoops, Aleksander's people come along to butcher and enslave them all. Good going guys.

Berg is skilled at presenting complicated things simply. She doesn't borrow any established mythology for her demons and demon hunters, everything is original to the books. And yet I never had any trouble following it or keeping things straight in my head. Plus, it was very cool, which always helps. I also felt that the various races in the books didn't model "real" cultures too heavily, which was a refreshing change from most fantasy novels I read.

The premise is what grabbed me first though. As a slave Seyonne, who used to be the best demon killer, focuses solely on the present as a way of surviving his slavery. Then he ends up being purchased by Aleksander and noticing, against his better judgement, that Aleksander has some seriously bad ass demon out to get him.

Does Seyonne remain true to the precepts he grew up following, or will his hate get in the way?

The main thing that kept striking me over and over as I read these books is how well done the friendship between Aleksander and Seyonne is. All too often in books if a relationship between two characters is focused on it will inevitably become romantic in nature. True friendship is a rarer best, and I think one harder to pull off. But Carol Berg does it in this trilogy and I was mightily impressed.

Both characters change considerably over the course of three books, and for the most part Berg does not take any easy routes. It's not until we reach the very end of the trilogy that I felt things got a little too neat and rainbows, but I probably only noticed it because she'd been so unflinchingly realistic up until then. I mean, odds are a man enslaved for sixteen years is not going to able to fit neatly back into his old home. Odds are childhood sweethearts are not going to live happily ever after. There are certain things we're used to seeing in fantasy novels, certain ways that things tend to play out, but Berg rarely follows convention. Although please note that while she didn't pull any punches, these books by no means fall into the category of dark fantasy. I don't know how she pulled it off, but all those "dark because dark equals reality yo" authors might benefit from checking these books out.

And there's one last things I want to give Berg props for. You might think as I've only mentioned Seyonne and Aleksander that these are dude heavy books. Not so! The supporting cast is large and populated with fleshed out three dimensional people (and demons) and her female characters in particular were very well done.

Now all props aside I will say that as enjoyable as I found this trilogy, I felt there was a lot of potential that wasn't realised as well. By the end I felt there were just too many things going on at once, and some story lines were seriously neglected or too hastily wrapped up.

But despite that, as embarrassing as it might be to be seen reading a book with such an awful cover, I really think you should give this trilogy a try.

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