Sunday, February 26, 2006

Ex Libris: Welcome to the Post-Apocalypse

I hate it when I read a book and it doesn't work for me.

I heard a lot of good things about Mark Chadbourn's much-lauded Age of Misrule and the Dark Ages series, about the fall of human civilization with the rise of magic. A number of websites, including SFSite to The Alien Online, gave Chadbourn quite high-marks for coming up with an intelligent fantasy tale. So when I found a copy of The Queen of Sinister at a local bookstore, I jumped at the chance despite starting mid-point of the series.

It was also encouraging that most reviewers said anyone could start any of Chadbourn's books without having read the prior books of the series. Heaven knows I've done worse with other series.

In The Queen of Sinister, Chadbourn relates the on-going tale of what happened after the world went to hell in a handbasket. Unfortunately, the human race can't seem to get a good break as a mysterious plague starts to wipe out the survivors. During the course of the tale, five people set out across England and into the Otherworld of legend to find the cause and cure for the plague. Unfortunately, one of the characters, a doctor named Caitlin, carries a number of disparate personalities in her head. And one of them is not human.

All in all, it's an interesting opener to a series both backwards and forwards. Chadbourn posits what happens when magic is introduced to the present world and pushes it to its conclusion. Industries stop, governments fall, and chaos prevails on the street when you're faced with cold-blooded elves , ghoulish dark riders and other beasties on the street. In other words, this ain't your Tolkien, buddy. Moreover, Chadbourn peoples the story with well-rounded characters such that reader can empathize with the protagonists when the shit hits the fan. Couple this with a lot of sword-swinging fights and chase sequences through forests in the dead of night and you definitely got a good book on hand.

But. Despite all the pluses about Chadbourn's book, nothing worked for me.

None of the characters appealed to me and the suspense and the danger overhanging the story didn't interest me. (I suppose the characters didn't appeal to me because they were... unremarkable. They seemed well-rounded characters but unfortunately not anyone I would care for in the course of the reading.) There were some involving sequences like Caitlin's transformation and her single-handed attack on an enemy fort. However, these were too few to make a difference for me.

Moreover, there seemed to be a too-"spiritual" or New Age bent to the story that made me twitch. Nothing overt nor preaching, but enough to make my skepticism raise its radar. I must admit that, for me, the system did seem more hokey than most magic systems. Maybe becausae I have an innate distrust on any system that uses "spirit guides"? Aside from being cliche, it makes things too easy that the user can just ask for help...

All in all, this is more or less a good read for whoever picks this up and I probably had too high expectations about starting a well-acclaimed series. But whatever the case, it's a shame that I won't buy the other Chadbourn books in this series. Maybe his next series will appeal to me more. Heaven knows it's happened before.

(Thanks to JP for asking asking me to clarify a few points.)

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