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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thoughts on Two Series Ending Novels: "The Daemon Prism" by Carol Berg and "Percepliquis" by Michael Sullivan (by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION: Two highly expected novels of 2012 scheduled for January publication that ended their respective series turned out to share a few characteristics that disappointed me to some extent - after earlier installments in which traditional fantasy elements were understated, both The Daemon Prism and Percepliquis went heavily the "true and tried" way with evil from long ago (the 1000 year fetish in one case raised its head again, while in the other there were a few thousand years I think), heroes that have to vanquish it or else life as we know it will end etc, etc.

However Carol Berg's The Daemon Prism managed to overcome the above with a great character cast, moral complexity, universe expansion and superb writing, while considering its excellent ending, it pretty much fulfilled my ultra-high expectations and will be a top 25 2012 novel of mine.

On the other hand Michael Sullivan's Percepliquis accentuated all the weak points of the earlier installments - most notably the sandbox world building which was easy to overlook when the main heroes were a pair of adventurers thieves but became a glaring weakness when the "heroes save the five city world" became the essential plot, while its cookie cutter ending added to the breaking of suspension of disbelief.

Still considering The Ryria Revelations as a whole, I would also recommend Percepliquis even if only for finding out what happens and spending more time with the heroes. But I much preferred Hadrian and Royce as gentlemen thieves than as world saviors and The Emerald Storm and especially Wintertide remained the very high points of the series for me.

Below I will add a few specific points about each novel while you can find full length reviews of the earlier installments in both series in our Review Index Page.

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The Daemon Prism Short Discussion:

- Dante narrates for the most part especially in the first half, but there are interludes from Anne that eventually grow in length and we even read Portier's thoughts once again and Ilario for the first time, so all the main series characters narrate at least a little.

- the transitions are handled well though there is this tiny lack of smoothness in places as opposed to the one narrator earlier books.

- the novel has a lot of magic, way too much for me and the story becomes a very traditional one with a lot of stuff I've seen in countless novels to date, so again the originality of the first two books is somewhat lacking.

- the extraordinary characters, beautiful prose and superb ending more than make up for the above; I cannot emphasize how hard is to end series well and this novel does it pitch perfect imho with literally a final scene that is quite memorable.

Overall a top 25 book for me and one that should satisfy the fans of the series to date, while being quite accessible to people who have not read the earlier two volumes - though of course I highly recommend them to do it - as the necessary back story is recounted, while here the action moves in very different places with generally very different secondary characters than in the first two books.

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Percepliquis Short Discussion:

- this book in many ways came a year too late for me as I have been moving away from its subgenre; I still enjoyed it to some extent but I thought it weaker than both Wintertide and The Emerald Storm; those two books and especially Wintertide are the peak of the series for me.

- killing untold numbers of un-named or bit part characters and wreaking havoc on the world is much less emotional and effective than the tragic death of one main character which gave so much power to Wintertide.

- there were quite a few other issues I had - things are tied way too well in the end giving an impression of "all this is a game" rather than a real book as reality is messier; there were moments I felt that the few main characters were the only "real people" and the rest were just puppets that the author moved for the benefit of our heroes.

- the 1000 year timeline which here becomes essential is a bit ridiculous as a millennium is a really long time; maybe in prehistory when things moved slowly, yes but in historical time 1000 years are a lot; in earlier volumes this was more of a prop, but here as this moved to the forefront, it really seemed very simplistic.

- the world building also suffers when the plot becomes "save the world" as the limited universe of five cities (ok maybe slightly more, but you can count them easily) is pushed to the forefront and we see what a small sandbox the author has been playing in; in the earlier books this has not been an issue as their geographical action is limited except in The Emerald Storm and even there the action is local; here though when the action is global this "universe smallness" emerges as a major weakness.

Overall, "Percepliquis" which I would still recommend as the closing novel of a pretty good series overall, will appeal to readers who want every i dotted and every t crossed and do not mind a pretty simplistic way of doing that; as the series went on, I always have thought that the main twist at the end won't happen as I thought it would be really corny and make the series weaker.

9 comments:

Scott said...

Huh.

I sometimes agree with your reviews and sometimes I think you are utterly nuts.

In this case I feel it is the latter.

Seeing the end result plot as "save the world"? Oh my dear good sir you missed the point of the series entirely. That's not what the result was AT ALL. In fact, I feel that Sullivan goes out of his way to subvert that being the result. It may have been the "vehicle" in which the story was told, but the result was about something else entirely.

The whole series was about those last few pages, up to and including that last paragraph. When it all circled around and I realized what the series was all about I was even MORE impressed by what Sullivan had done.

Feeling that it wasn't (in the end) about the two thieves...oh my, you missed the point if you truly believe that.

Liviu said...

As a complete reply would be too spoilery I will say only that you do not need a 1000 year menace and saving humanity from it for redemption if that is your point.

you can for example die heroically or even quietly, or just to see the difference between the two books here, go undercover, become hated by everyone as being the servant of the baddies, become blind and accept the hate (mitigated a little later by official recognition of your sacrifice, but still extant and liable to see you on a pyre sent by a zealous official and cheered by the mob, not to speak of the extreme hate you incurred from the family of your object affection and for some good reasons to boot) and the blindness (which you can later cure if you accept some stuff) as the price of helping your friends.
And end up losing all your powers and become just a blind scarred man with some wisdom and friends for life...


For me the resolution of Ryria is just so cute and neat - no pain (as the major pain happened in Wintertide, see my comment about killing tons of unnamed characters, while the few named ones are bit players), all living happily ever after (more or less)

Very solipsistic, make-believe wish-fulfillment etc.

The rest of my issues (very small universe, 1000 years...) were ultimately less important, but the arc of the characters did not work for me; as mentioned I always dismissed who turned out to be the heir (after all it was obvious that he/she is either dead or a named character which are few so not hard to count) as just way too corny...

Sean said...

I need to refresh myself on the previous books in The Ryria Revelations. Is there anywhere that I can read a plot summary, that is a complete summary of each book, before I crack open the last one?
Sorry if this was rather off topic and personal, but guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Liviu said...

I would try the author site

Scott said...

Liviu.

Thanks for the concise answer. I disagree, but that's down to subjectivity methinks.

I hope I didn't offend you with my comment. I just saw it differently I guess.

I always appreciate your review style though. :)

Liviu said...

No offense - I actually love an interesting debate; for a very different take on Mr. Sullivan's work you may want to check the Strange Horizons review I linked in today's post and the comments both there and here...

I am tame compared...

Sean said...

Thanks for the reply Liviu. I did try the author's site before I posted, but could only find the usual blurb. Same with Amazon, goodreads, and alas no wiki. Perhaps, if I start reading Percepliquis it'll come back to me.

Liviu said...

I am surprised there is only little on the author site; for what is worth here are a few lines about each book till 5:

- two thieves get framed for a murder, get rescued by a princess and sent on a quest with the unwitting prince now king (brother of said princess); in the meantime the bad guys frame the princess for the murder and send assassins after the prince so the two have to save the day

- two years later, now advanced in rank the two heroes are begged by a girl to help save her father since a huge beast (dragon??) is killing her village but her father doe not want to move; it turns out that the beast is part of a -plot by the uber bad guys to proclaim an empire but their plans are derailed though not really by the heroes

- 3-4-5 are a sequence that starts six months later when the empire is proclaimed anyway with the girl as puppet empress and the two heroes and the princess of the first volume try valiantly to fight it, only to get thwarted for most of it and actually end up in prison or unwittingly help the bad guys (volumes 3-4), but in volume 5 finally things start clearing up on that front when the huge menace (ancient 1000 years evil) rears its head...

Sean said...

Thanks a bunch.

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