Thursday, November 15, 2012

Second Try: "Curse of the Mistwraith"

The first book in The Wars of Light and Shadow fantasy series by Janny Wurts was a hard slog for  most of our members. I read and enjoy fantasy novels, but my effort to complete this book was more like homework. I wasn't alone in my feelings.

First, the good stuff. Janny Wurts has done a phenomenal job of world building. The setting is complex and well planned. Her magic has a logical source (allowing for the reader's suspension of disbelief) with the necessary rules and limitations. Ms. Wurts populates the novel with characters that are all too human in their ambitions and foibles.

Wurts excels in her descriptive writing. She selects just the right details and describes them in such a manner that places the reader on the spot. We can see, smell, and feel the world that the characters inhabit.

Wurts explores the perception versus reality theme, particularly in the character of Arithon. He is the illegitimate son of the Queen and pirate enemy of the King of Amroth. Arithon has natural musical talent, a heightened sense of empathy, and innate magical ability. As the last of his paternal lineage he is destined to reign over Etarra, but Arithon would prefer a life as a master bard. A magical curse and strong sense of duty sends him on another course that pits him against his half brother, Prince Lysaer. When the reader first encounters Arithon he is portrayed as a cruel and unprincipled enemy of Amroth. As the novel progresses, however, we learn that Arithon is actually a caring and conscientious young man who places the needs of others above his personal desires.

The problem with the novel, I decided, was pace. Wurts never breaks up her descriptive paragraphs with short, pithy dialogue or action. Flip through the pages and there is a paucity of white space. As much as we enjoyed her exploration of character and setting, the endless diet wore us down. There was no relief from angst-ridden interior dialogue or descriptive passages.

The first novel in the multiple-book series has a large population of characters that confused us. Especially since there were similarities in names. Each time we picked up the book we had to reorient ourselves. "Is this character the sorcerer, or the captain of the men-at-arms?"

It took most of us about a third of the way into the novel to get hooked. And just about the time we were avidly following the characters -- we were slammed with lengthy descriptive paragraphs that bogged us down.

We agreed that this is not a novel for an e-reader -- which three of us were using. Wurts created a detailed map of the fantasy world not available with our Kindle versions. Although the map can be accessed on her web site, when I printed it out for reference it was so fuzzy I couldn't read it. Both the printed and e-book versions include a lengthy glossary of characters and locales; however, it is a major pain in the rear to move back and forth in an e-book. I was frustrated by the inability to flip pages for quick reference. We suspected much of our confusion while reading the novel would have been remedied had we been reading the printed version. By the time I finished the book I was desperate to hold a real book!

Regrettably, other than the member who recommended the book, none of us are interested in pursuing the remainder of the books in the series. I recommend Wurts' writing for her world building and descriptive writing. But if you're looking for fast-paced adventure, this isn't your book.

Our book club is taking a break over the holidays. We'll meet up again in January to discuss Laura Hillenbrands' Unbroken.

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