18 May, 2012

History as it wasn't

Well, it would appear that i have done it again. This book is one of a series of, maybe, a dozen and a half that i have been given over the past few years, through the Early Reviewers programme, in exchange for a review. There was one which i was utterly unable to finish (i reviewed it, to be sure; you can read that review at the other end of this link); and now Guardian of the Vision: Merlin's Descendants#3, which i have fought with for over a month and am officially giving up on, so this is the review of an unfinished book. It hurts my pride to have to do this: I can read anything, so i always say, without respect for genre, style, author, even meaning.
I have tried to read Guardian; with all my heart i have tried. Each time, though, i have managed to struggle through a chapter or two then throw it aside (not literally, don't worry ~ i have far too great a knowledge of and respect for the value of money to risk thus damaging the Kindle i paid nearly a hundred pounds for!) and turn to something else. Each time i have found myself thinking, or on one or two occasions saying out loud, “Blah blah blah!” which is as near as i come to the contempt the Greeks had for the meaningless language sounds of those they called “barbarians”. Nothing, in other words, seems to have any value or meaning here. Let me explain further
First of all, and it is hard for me to decide which of my complaints deserves to be first, there are the characters. I say “characters”, but i could just as easily have put “character”, because they are all slight variations on the same character, no difference in style, presentation, value, or charisma. None of them is attractive ~ of the main ones, anyway ~ none is clear protagonist, none is compelling, none makes me care about them or their actions. There are differences: One is female, two are male; one a priest, one a baron, one a witch; but truthfully, if you ignore those superficial differences, they are the same person.
A second issue is the structure. Radford has chosen to tell her story from several different perspectives, from those of each of the three main characters; two of those use a third person narration, the third (first chronologically) uses first. Except when it doesn't. In one chapter i was reading the other day, the first person narration changes to third person from one paragraph to another; but the focus doesn't change, nor does anything else at all: It is as though Radford simply forgot which person she was using and got confused. Certainly not what i look for in a skilled author.
A third difficulty is that Radford has her history wrong. Maybe i oughtn't worry about that; maybe it isn't important; maybe she has purposely written what she knows to be incorrect, and if i could have forced myself to finish the book i'd find out why. Perhaps the characters with the names of people from our history ~ Elizabeth Tudor, Marie Stuart, John Dee ~ aren't the same people, and the names are merely coincidence. Until i can be convinced of that, however, i struggle to understand why James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, is given that title and appears as Regent of Scotland within the action of the novel, years before either were true. Simple historical inaccuracy, which ought to be avoided.
The next issue i have, and perhaps this one ought to have been first, as it is at least partially at the base of a couple of the others, is that Radford doesn't seem to have the knack of writing compelling prose. I may not have that knack myself, but i can recognise, by the effect it has on me, of creating the necessity to keep reading, the desire to know what's happening next (linked to but not the same as plot construction), giving me enjoyment sufficient to carry me till the next time i can read, using words cleverly and with pleasure, and making me see things in words i hadn't seen previously. And this prose does not do that. It is, sadly not in the best sense of the word, prosaic: Dull, flat, uninteresting.
The thing that is remarkable to me is that Radford must have ability and her previous works must have had audience, precisely because there were previous works: Guardians is the third book in a series. Her writing must be, or have been, sufficiently successful for some readers that her publisher is willing to put this one out there. I only hope that there is an audience for it somewhere; in my house there is not.
I notice, now that i thought i had come to the end of my review, that i have actually written nothing about the content at all, the subject or story of the novel. That was an accident, needing correction. It is an historical speculative fiction, wondering what would have happened had there been a family in England descended from Merlin, the Pendragons, whose essential family concern was to work with the powers of the land (monarchy and church, primarily) to prevent chaos from taking the country. This book (as i pointed out above, it is the third in the series) asks these questions about the time of Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots. There is trouble in the land, caused by the religious struggles, by the dynastic concerns of both Tudors and Stewarts, by a young Scottish witch who is in league with a demon whose sole desire seems to be to cause chaos in England. The Pendragon family has its own issues, of course, and how these are to be resolved must be the matter of the plot (i can only imagine, as i've been unable to finish it). I would assume that matters are left somewhat unresolved, in order to provide space for a sequel, could one be wanted.

Blah blah blah....


Stephanie Rae Pazicni said...

Thing is, sounds like a great plot! You had probably spoiled it by reading something totally fabulous beforehand. See if all other novels pale in comparison now... ;)

Elsie Wilson said...

Thing is, it absolutely could be a great plot. In the hands of an author who can write. It's the kind of novel i'd love to read. Strike that. It ought to be the kind of novel i'd love to read. It isn't.