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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Fantasy readers are no strangers to long-winded exposition. For every gripping battle and flowing stream of dialogue and intrigue come pages of meandering description of the leaves of a tree or a tavern's common room that ultimately resembles all the others. Even combat only has so much appeal before the interest in stances, cuts, and parries becomes akin to a how-to on surgical procedures rather than a visceral experience.
Author Ari Marmell's Agents of Artifice is a prime example of what should be every writer's foremost axiom: show, don't tell. Marmell's successful application of breakneck character and plot development results in an excellent narrative that is equal parts truth and deception.
Agents of Artifice is two-thirds a tale set in its present day, and one-third a prequel to its own story. Less than 100 pages into the tale, I found myself completely stunned and enraptured by a plot twist that firmly has its way with the "nothing is what it seems" cliché, a pleasant surprise in an age where true plot twists are unforeseen. The twist propels both reader and protagonist (whose name I have intentionally omitted so as to preserve the surprise) back several years in an exploration of the events that led to the book's beginning before reinstating character and audience back in the present in search of resolution.
It's the sort of story that mandates a build-up to current events, and one that may seem adverse to skirting exposition. After all, if one is to understand a character's current predicament, one must be presented with a solid foundation, and that would seem to require copious explanation. Not so with Agents of Artifice: Marmell's method of delivery makes the venture into the protagonist's past just as compelling as his present. Readers experience events for the first time right along with the protagonist at a smooth pace that never falters. Readers learn along with the protagonist, allowing events to build to a crescendo of puzzle pieces snapping logically into place with each turn of the page rather than constant narration interjections.
Questions posed at the beginning of the book--who is this person? who are his friends? why is this or that name so important?--are answered upon delving into the character's past. By comprising the bulk of the story as a prequel, Marmell assures readers insight into present and even future events without bogging them down in details.
The pace also allows characters to evolve gradually, blooming and evolving before a reader's eyes. While each of his characters is interesting, all suffer from Marmell's apparent affinity for witty and sarcastic quips. Such biting dialogue is used for every character, which often gives them all a feeling of sameness--and that's when the attempts at humor don't fall flat. Situations in which characters should be running for their lives regardless of their personalities are all too often preceded by cringe-worthy banter that would charm any loyal viewer of primetime sitcoms, but not necessarily fantasy.
That's not to say the dialogue is always inappropriate; it often works well, and most characters do drop their facetious pretenses when the need arises for their true nature to be revealed. It's simply overused and sometimes serves to induce eye-rolling when a situation calls more for intensity and drama.
Agents of Artifice is an excellent example of walking a character's road in his shoes. It is a self-contained trilogy that doesn't require two to three years of waiting between books, and comes highly recommended to all fantasy readers regardless of their familiarity with Magic: The Gathering fiction.
12:01 AM | Posted by Fantasy Book Critic | | Edit Post