Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lisa’s Take: Too Many Curses (A. Lee. Martinez)

It’s pretty much impossible for me to say anything bad about Martinez’ work – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every shred of story I’ve read by him. I can’t even put into words how thrilled I am that he’s so prolific and so filled with delicious ideas. Too Many Curses is no exception to the precedent that Martinez has set – it’s a very fun read, it has interesting characters, it’s full of witty dialog and creative silliness, but it also still has a nice emotional balance.

The premise of Too Many Curses is that Nessy, a Kobold, is the house keeper of a castle for an evil wizard with a penchant for cursing his enemies in creative ways, then trapping them within his evil abode. You get people turned into owls who can only alliterate, ghosts trapped in mirrors, vampires that jingle, disembodied voices, and heroes trapped in bat form. When Nessy’s evil master suffers an untimely death, it’s up to Nessy to figure out how to reverse all the curses of her charges – as well as deal with the sudden turmoil that the castle is thrown into.

The story is fun and really give’s Martinez a chance to show off his creative side – he fires off one amusing curse after another, creating a colorful, endearing, and entertaining cast of characters. Sadly, loathe though I am to say it, it felt like his extensive cast was developed at the cost of two things: further character development after their initial conception, and a compelling plot.

The former of the two criticisms is the easiest to pin down – it’s as though Martinez had these awesome character concepts, but didn’t bother to develop them past their base idea. Yes – we understand that Nessy is staid, solid, and organized, while simultaneously being clever, good hearted, and possessing impressive intuition. I can assure you that we don’t need to be explicitly told this over and over and over. It felt like for all of the events happening around her, Nessy never changed – which could be a point unto itself, I suppose, but in the end it made me feel less like I was taking a journey with her, and more like I was watching an entertaining but un-dynamic movie.

My second complaint ties in with the first to some extent, though it’s also stands alone. As with the characters, I didn’t feel like the story had much of a sense of movement or pacing. The first two thirds of the book fell victim to the “and then this happened. And then this happened. And then this happened” syndrome. Granted, all the things that were happening were clever and entertaining, so it wasn’t too bad, but it was disappointing to see Martinez take a step back in his story telling technique from the excellence he had achieved in The Automatic Detective. That said, the story did culminate into a big, action-packed ending, which somewhat mitigated my complaints.

Well – I started off saying that it was impossible for me to speak ill of anything written by A. Lee Martinez, but I apparently had quite a few gripes about this one. All of that said, Too Many Curses was still an extremely fun read; it just broke the constant upward improvement momentum I had come to expect from his other books (which I have always read in order of release). I suppose it’s to be expected that it would be hard to surpass the absolute excellence of The Automatic Detective… he shouldn’t have set my standards so high! Regardless, don’t give this book a skip just because I had a few bad things to say – it’s still a really fun read! Just maybe read it before, say, Gil’s and The Automatic Detective.

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