Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Reavers of Skaith

I finally finished the final book in the Skaith trilogy by Leigh Brackett. If you remember my previous reviews for The Ginger Star and The Hounds of Skaith, you'll not be surprised that I'm disappointed in The Reavers of Skaith as well. Particularly so, because I really wanted to like them, but I just... didn't. Of course, you could also suss that out by the fact that it took me weeks to read this book, and it was only 208 pages long. In fact, when I sat down last night to finish it, I wasn't even as far as I thought I was; I was less than 40% done. I still buckled down and read the rest of the book in about two hours even so.

The biggest problem with the books is the characters. They just never felt anything like real people. They never felt like they had motivations that made any sense. They went through the motions of the plot, but that was it. This was actually quite literally true; throughout the entire series, the inexorable grip of prophecy and fate drove the plot forward, and the characters were just along for the ride. What is supposed to be an emotional, heart-wrenching moment is just flat and boring in this book; one character goes to inevitable death, without complaining, because it was her "fate" and she had foreseen it, and blah blah blah. The other characters just kinda stood around and watched her. The audience, i.e., me, just didn't even care.

The book ends very anticlimactically as well. There are arguably two main antagonists. One is killed off screen, and his ignominous defeat barely rates a three or four line mention tacked onto the end of the book. The second, as it turns out, has already lost by the time he confronts Stark, so the confrontation is robbed of any meaning or power.

I had really hoped to enjoy Brackett's magnum opus, as the collected Book of Skaith is sometimes called. I liked her other Stark stories set on Mars and Venus, including the novellas The People of the Talisman and The Secret of Sinharat, both of which I also own. I'm a big fan of some of her screenplay work, particularly (of course) The Empire Strikes Back and Hatari! Why did Skaith fall so flat?

Well, I've already discussed why I think it didn't work, but why did she write such a poor piece of fiction late in her life is really the question I suppose I'm asking. I don't know. Maybe she just isn't suited to the novel format? I can't say.

I'll probably (at some point) give her other big novel a try, The Sword of Rhiannon, but I'm not particularly thrilled to run out and track down a copy at the moment, given my reception to the Skaith novels.

In the meantime, I pulled Amanda Downum's debut novel, The Drowning City off my bookshelf, and that'll be the next novel that I have a go with. Oh, and for a change of pace, rather than the James Ryman Paizo commissioned cover, I actually am posting an image of the Steranko cover, which is what my books have.


Badelaire said...

I've got the Skaith books myself, and some day I'll have to give them a try. I read a book of earlier Stark stories, and liked them well enough. I also have Rhiannon, but have never read it as well. Maybe this summer I'll have to take a few weeks and dive in out of curiosity.

Joshua said...

One thing I'll say about Skaith now is that they're fairly timely--no doubt not purposefully. There's a strong allegory in the stories, about a society that continues to support more and more nonproductive members at the expense of the fewer and fewer productive ones, until it just collapses completely under its own weight. As I mentioned, by the time Stark goes to take on this corrupt society, it's actually already fallen down on its own, making his confrontation very anticlimatic. I do, however, think that reading the book for the allegory is perhaps more interesting than reading it for any other reason. As my review noted; the book itself wasn't really all that enjoyable.