Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Gardens of the Moon

Precision with terminology is a pet peeve of mine. In particular, I'm thinking about labels for subdivisions of fantasy fiction. At least at the moment. I've heard plenty of really sloppy labeling, like calling the Lord of the Rings movies Sword & Sorcery for example. One example that's not quite as blatant, yet is nuanced and significant nonetheless is the mislabeling of any fantasy that is highly fantastical as High Fantasy. High Fantasy as a subgenre is many things; ironically, having a high level of wahoo fantasy is not necessarily one of them, and in fact is probably a good indication that the work in question is not High Fantasy at all. High Fantasy tends to take place in fairly realistic worlds that closely resemble some real world society on many levels, usually a medieval one.

The reason I bring this up is because I finally finished reading Gardens of the Moon last night. And frankly, I don't think it's High Fantasy at all, although it is highly fantastic. You've got flying giant bugs, for example, that serve as mounts for army couriers. You've got gods and godlike beings that play around in the mortal worlds as a matter of course, and in fact the clash between several such beings is the pivotal climax at the end of Gardens. But the book is not High Fantasy. It's fairly dark in many ways, it's gritty, it's got tons of intrigue and espionage, it's got strong military themes: it does a lot of things, but adhering closely to standard High Fantasy plot points, setting points and other familiar themes is not one of the things that it does at all.

I can't say that I really liked it. I thought it was poorly structured. For hundreds of pages, I really didn't have any idea what was going on, who the characters being described were, and why I should care about the bizarre, inexplicable and unexplained things that were happening to them. That changed a bit as the book got on and I started to be able to follow plot threads, even though they still bounced around like the literary version of ADD without any explanation of what was going on. As the book wound up to its climax, though, I found that I was underwhelmed by the entire thing. There were some cool ideas in it, but I just never really bought into the characters or their plights, and the subplot resolutions felt empty to me. Not only did I not really like most of the characters, some of them very actively annoyed me (Kruppe being the biggest offender here, but Lorn, Rake and a few others count as well.) The characters all felt very flat and poorly conceived, and their cardboard motivations, or sometimes lack thereof, made them unsympathetic and boring to read about.

Many other things were introduced and then not fully explored, while other things got tons of activity, but it felt like buzzing around in a great deal of rather pointless noise. The plot structure really needed a stronger focus and concentration on accomplishing goals, and the characters (and dialogue) needed a lot of work. The setting was decent, although also not as well explored as perhaps it could have been. It wasn't showcased well enough to make it a real asset.

Do I like the book well enough to go on? Well, frankly, I've already bought Deadhouse Gates so that's a moot point. If I bought it, eventually I'll read it. If I hadn't bought it already, would I now that I've finished Gardens? Honestly: probably not.

1 comment:

barsoomcore said...

I will be interested to see your reaction to DG.