Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lisa’s Take: The Sword (Deborah Chester)

Ok, I’m going to state right up front that I didn’t give this book a particularly fair shot. Honestly I never intended to from the start. Call me a bad person and a naughty book reviewer, but it’s the truth. I’m doing my best this year to get some of the chaff cleared off my shelf, which means trying really hard to not pick up the newest, shiniest book that I just bought, but rather take out some things that have been sitting there for years.

I’m not actually sure how The Sword made its way onto my stack. I know that it cropped up new sometime during my junior year at Tech, so… about 6 years ago? It doesn’t look like something I’d buy – the back and first few pages are very trite, and there’s nothing about it that would have drawn my interest. Who knows, maybe I grabbed it solely because it was pretty and blue. Needless to say, its lack of immediately interesting features didn’t give me any particular compulsion to pick it up whenever I went back to the shelf for a new book.

Then last week I was packing for a business trip and feeling a little belligerent. General “I have to go out of town” testiness. I went over to my bookshelf and said “you know, I think I’m going to pick something that I know will be awful, just so I can write a particularly vicious review!” Like I said above, I wasn’t really looking to give anything a fair shot. So I picked up The Sword.

I gave The Sword my usual 100-page grace period, choking it down in a couple of hours one evening on my business trip. By the time I started it I was in less of a mood, so I was approaching it with a much more open mind, but the book was determined to live up to all of my preconceived notions. The plot could have been from an instruction manual about how to write a fantasy novel – some complex names, a king who gets predictably betrayed, elves, precocious children, terrifying beasts and handlers with mythical talents who can calm and harness them. Throw in a couple of magical artifacts and you’ve pretty much got a textbook fantasy plot.

It’s not really that there was anything particularly bad about the book… sure, the author’s description of the King’s body guard started as “protector” then moved to “possible betrayer” and finished up as “best friend in the entire world and I can’t believe he’s DEAD DEAD DEAD” but other than that one little bobble the plot and characters were consistent - just… very shallow. Chester toed the line of painting some evocative images, but always fell short because of her propensity for “telling” the reader, rather than showing them. The text was often a bit stilted and even when describing great beauty it didn’t flow. The result was a distinct lack of emotion for the characters and their peril on my part, and an overwhelmingly blasé reaction (is it even possible to be overwhelmingly blasé ? Seems like an oxymoron, but I don't know how else to describe it) when I reached the end of my 100 page trial.

So, there you have it: my completely unfair and biased appraisal of The Sword. If someone out there wants to speak up and tell me I made a mistake, I’ll be happy to pick it up and finish – I was left with the impression that if I had read a bit more the plot might have gotten meatier, but I just didn’t care enough to persevere. One more book knocked off my distressingly large stack, and probably -10 points to my reviewer credibility score! Hoorah!


Hagelrat said...

A really good book can shine through bias and bad moods though.

LisaBit said...

It's true! In fact, the book I started as soon as I gave up on The Sword did exactly that :] There are so many good books out there that it's impossible for me to get disillusioned.

Jeff C said...

I really liked the series when I read it several years ago, but I don't recall why. I hope to re-read it sometime in the next year to see if it was as good as I remember. Maybe it just happened to be what I was looking for at the time, though I think the big reason I liked it was for the main character, Dain.

LisaBit said...

Hmm, maybe I'll give it another chapter or two at your word, Jeff - after 100 pages the story was still following the deposed king whose name I can't spell. Thanks for the input!

Kristen said...

I read the whole trilogy and didn't end up thinking it was anything that wonderful. Nothing interested me about the first book until the very end and I had decided not to pick up the rest of the series until the very end. I thought the next two books were better but it's still not a series I'd reread.