Monday, June 4, 2012

The Unremembered - Peter Orullian

I was really looking forward to this, and really wanted to love it, but getting all the way through was a real struggle. I had read the short story "Sacrifice of the first Sheason" which I thought was intriguing, and then I read the author's description of the book and what he was trying to accomplish: , which also sounded great. Then I got my hands on the actual book, and while the story isn't bad, there were just too many little things which drove me completely crazy.

First off, it isn't at all clear what is going on. Which is fine, these sorts of stories you expect to unfold gradually, but it kept getting to a point where it seemed like we were going to have a bit of a reveal...and then nothing. The main character, Tahn, is just being dragged along by the Sheason, Vendanj, and we really have no idea what makes Tahn special. Except that he's got this weird gap in his memory, and there's something strange which happens when he fires his bow. Fine. There's something going on, if he actually knew what it was he'd be too scared to continue...really? He does a whole pile of really stupid stuff, jumping in and getting involved in other people's problems - he's a teenage boy who doesn't seem to have any fear of consequences at all, so I don't buy that things are too scary to explain to him.

Then there's Mira. She's a Far, and they only live until they turn 18. While some of the Far have more than 1 child (Mira has a sister), it is apparent from the story that not every Far has a child, and they all die by age 18. I'm seeing some problems here. Also, any culture where the parents all die before their kids hit age 10? You're going to have communal child-care. None of this kids getting fostered by some other woman...that woman needs to be having her own babies, and lots of them, not spending her energy raising someone else's children. This social structure just doesn't work, and even if there are bits that haven't been explained which could make it work, I cannot fathom any explanation that has a female of child-bearing age running around as a warrior.

Finally, the thing which bugged me the most was the language. I get that you want to use cool new terms for lots of things, and that you're trying to do interesting things with the language. Some authors manage to do fabulous stuff, usually by stealing from actual languages, but there are books like Clockwork Orange which do incredible things with language. Changing breakfast to endfast? That was just annoying. Calling your nasty monsters the "Quietgiven" and then referring to them as "Given"? Made me totally stumble. Having your characters use nicknames for one another is also great, especially when they're the slightly derogatory type that teenage boys come up with for one another, and when you're trying to emphasize that they're only boys and not actually men yet (really? did you really need to come up with a special word for teenager? I will grant that it is important to the story...but really?), but you need to do a better job of introducing the nickname. Like having it initially used in dialogue instead of during a chunk of narrative (which is from the POV of the person using the nickname, so it is just internal dialogue, but when the nickname is a common English word...just added to the overall confusion). Mixed in with the language was the interactions between the characters - the tones they use with one another were often at odds with the relationship between them. Like a reverential tone being used in reference to someone very young and inexperienced, regarding something fairly inconsequential.

So, I struggled through all of this, because I had enjoyed the short story so much, and really wanted to find out what was going on. There's some cool musical magic which wanted more elaboration. The Sheason's abilities are really interesting. The political situation is also pretty cool. But the story just isn't doing it for me. This little group has been dragged all the way to the edge of the earth so that Tahn can have a particular experience and become someone who will actually be able to stop the Quietgiven, but it just fell flat. They succeeded, but I'm still not seeing that they've substantially improved the situation. And the bit where he screws up and saves Mira - really? Was that really the best you could do? Surely there was a better way to set that particular bit up.

I'm just frustrated by this whole book. I want to love it. I want to read the whole series, but it is just way too long for something with this many flaws. I like Orullian's writing style, but there are just too many little things which jolt me out of the story, or make me have to stop and try to figure out what the heck is going on (like that little scene on the riverboat...they're gambling...with lives? experiences? that was just weird). So often I can see what he's trying to do, and it is awesome. There are tons of truly fabulous ideas here, so incredibly much potential, and yet it just isn't working. I suspect I will keep an eye on him, because these are all just things that should improve with time and experience.

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