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Friday, August 28, 2009

"The Choir Boats" by Daniel Rabuzzi (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Daniel Rabuzzi Website
Read Several Chapters (pdf extension) and See Interior Illustrations
Order "The Choir Boats" HERE

INTRODUCTION: "The Choir Boats", the first book of the "Longing for Yount" series attracted my attention by its synopsis and the excerpt on the author' site linked above. I requested a pdf arc for review and once I got into the novel and immersed myself in its wonderful atmosphere and its usage of charming archaic language and obscure or made up words that fit perfectly, I could not put it down until I finished it. The second book of the series "A Tax from Heaven" became another asap book for me.

After its recent debut, the new small press ChiZine is expanding this fall with several books including "The Choir Boats" and if this one is an indication of the quality of their offerings, I believe they will have a long successful run and I will keep an eye on their titles for anything that is of interest to me.

OVERVIEW: It is London 1812; our historical London except for some "details" like the "reality" of people like "Lucky Jack Aubrey", "Horatio Hornblower" - and several other Hornblower series characters - after all we are in the Napoleonic wars period though they do not impinge directly on the story so far - while those fellows with the magic ring "Sam and Frodo" are part of folklore and history.

And of course Yount, the mythical land that came "in tune" to Earth some 400 years ago and is accessible by ocean travel, with "drifting" gates in the Indian Ocean and more recently found also in the Bermuda triangle. However the passage to Yount is not straightforward and involves inter-world travel through places of danger, desolation and death where no living people have been found, though artifacts exist.

The McDoon family is somehow related with Yount and in the course of the novel we will find quite a few details about that, but here I just want to mention that some humans have the capacity of perceiving Yount, capability which is related with the "ansible" technology the people there use to keep track of far away, inter-worlds travelers, and which seems to run in families.

Sally and Tom, the 2 nephews of merchant Barnabas McDoon are inquisitive spirits with Sally bookish and in the thrall of strange dreams and Tom adventurous, and straining at his uncle imposed boundaries, while Barnabas and his partner Sanford have some secrets between them, so their past will become the hook the Yountish will use to make them help.

Unbeknown to them, Maggie the former black slave who escaped with her parents as a child from a Maryland plantation and now is a math prodigy teen working as maid in London, dreams of Yount too, though of course as opposed to the McDoon's who at least have a book purposing to describe the strange world, Maggie has no idea what and why she dreams...

The Yountish themselves have appropriately evocative names like Salmius Nalmius, Nexius Dexius or Reglum Bammary and their terminology is also suitably strange with terms like "fulgination", "eudiometry", "xantrophicius forces", all easily understood in context and adding to the sense of wonder.

And of course there are various opposing parties with their own agendas, some Earthly, some Yountish, some of unknown origins so far at least, most notably the fearsome "Cretched Man" aka Jambres who lives in a "skin-suit", well a 19th century version of one, not a space marine one...

"The Choir Boats" stands at about 400 pages and has 3rd person POV's mostly from the characters above, though the book has a quite largish cast. All through the novel there are superb illustrations made specially for it, images that add a lot to its feel and of which you can get a sample in the link above. The ending is at a natural stopping point in the action and contains a superb twist, so "A Tax from Heaven" is a highly awaited book.

ANALYSIS: What makes "The Choir Boats" a novel you want to pick up and read? For me the answer started with the archaic but beautiful style of the author which gives the novel a "mythical" or maybe "fairy-tale" feel; though none of those words are truly appropriate since on one hand "The Choir Boats" is very straightforward told, with characters that act and talk like "real life Londoners of 1812" did as far as we know from historical records, so no "mythical pathos" here.

On the other hand the book has quite a few dark spots, bad things and tragedy happen, people die or are hurt, there is no whitewashing of slavery or poverty and while Yount may seem as a land of legend at first, it has its own troubles which actually may be greater than we imagine since one of the theme of the novels is that "Yount has been punished" by a higher power and needs to redeem itself to get out of the current "limbo" - and the McDoon family may be a key to that... So no "fairy tale" glossing of reality either.

However the "magical feel" above stayed with me throughout the book and it was one of the reasons I decided to read it and then it became such a favorite; the subject of the book is fairly conventional and the characters while interesting do not jump at you from the page, with the possible exception of Maggie - though we see only snippets from her life so far but it seems she will play a major role in what comes next. However the inventiveness and sense of wonder coupled with the writing style make the book stand out and I encourage everyone to try the sample chapters and decide for themselves.

The touch of name-dropping famous characters as "real, contemporary" people adds also to the depth and I enjoyed it a lot. Despite having a large cast of which I only mentioned the most important protagonists above, "The Choir Boats" is an easy read once you immerse into it; there are no problems with pov jumping or scene interruptions that sometimes mar similar "many characters named and with speaking parts" novels. If there is one niggle is that some of the villains seem to be "really villainous" so to speak, but there is a lot of nuance and anyway we do not know the real story so far...

All in all, "The Choir Boats" is another novel I read twice and probably will read more as time goes, enjoyed a lot and put on my large "current series following with next book asap" list.


Charlotte said...

Sold! I've added it to my list.

rachelhestondavis said...

I love books that put you in a sort of reality limbo, where the world seems historically accurate but for the presence of fictitious people and events. It's an interesting change from the completely invented settings of most sci fi and fantasies.

And Kudos to Rabuzzi for plugging in Lord of the Rings as part of the world's mythology. It's ironic (or perhaps purposeful?) on his part, because Tolkien's original inspiration for writing about Middle Earth was the fact that England didn't have a decent mythology from its history, so he set about writing one for his own personal satisfaction.

Rachel Heston Davis
Up and Writing

Liviu said...

All the references to fictional characters as "real or historical people" work very well here due most likely to the style of the novel - the excerpt linked in the review gives you a very good "taste of it"

In other books these references could have come across as pretentious or contrived, but here they just flow naturally.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am an new author and my new fantasy novel, "Gateway to DreamWorld," was released on August 12th.

I would like to invite readers who enjoy fantasy/sci-fi to purchase a copy from or Barnes&

Any and all reviews are greatly appreciated.

Brenda Estacio

awineguy said...

Just finished "The Choir Boats", very nice piece of work. I'm looking forward to reading volume two as soon as I get a few other books off my table.

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