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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Fall of Thanes" by Brian Ruckley (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Brian Ruckley Website
Read an extract from the First Chapter of Fall of Thanes
Order "Fall of Thanes" HERE(US) and HERE(Europe/Overseas)

INTRODUCTION: Brian Ruckley took epic fantasy in a dark, grim, blood and guts direction with his excellent debut Winterbirth reviewed HERE. Characters died, towns fell, Thanes plotted and a dark magician of extraordinary power was refusing to be killed and his sufferings only deepened both his power and his almost insanity. In Bloodheir, reviewed HERE, the saga continued and it got only darker, but the twisted Aeglyss almost got to be a sympathetic character for me.

So the grand finale of the trilogy has been a highly awaited novel for me. However I have to say that it turned out to be a big time let down and I disliked "Fall of Thanes" immensely. While it was a powerful novel and the writing was as good as before, it just rubbed me the wrong way almost from the beginning and I lost interest on the way, finishing it mostly as a "duty" to see what happens. I will try to explain why in the analysis part.

OVERVIEW: Since I did an overview of The Godless World universe in my Bloodheir review, I will present it here too with appropriate changes to take into account what happened in the second novel too. I will try to be as spoiler free as possible for the first two volumes, but as a trilogy ending, Fall of Thanes depends heavily on what came before.

The Godless World is a bleak, wintry land in which several races, not having a great liking for each other, share territory uneasily, if not in outright conflict. There are two main races: Huanin—humans—and Kyrinin—humanlike and capable of interbreeding with humans, but very different in culture and distinctive in appearance.

The offspring of Huanin-Kyrinin mating—the Na'kyrim—are sterile, but are the only “humans” who can directly sense the collective consciousness—the Shared—and manipulate it if powerful enough The racism between Huanin and Kyrinin is very palpable, so the Na'kyrim are few and despised, hated or feared by Huanin and Kyrinin alike. Usually most Na'Kyrim try and live in isolated, inaccessible places, sometimes under the protection of human rulers, though some act as advisers to the powerful.

In the past there were Na'Kyrim of great power and some tried, and failed, to bend the world under their will, and Aeglyss has been shaping one such powerful and dark influence, gathering more and more power both political by manipulating the thanes and magical through his experiments and suffering. "Bloodheir" was to a large extent the story of Aeglyss' rise.

There are vast mysterious underground beings called the Anain who stay aloof from the rest, but intervened in the past when the Shared was badly out of kilt due to conflict, and may intervene again. Nobody really wants to see Anain involved though, since their interventions usually result in massive rearrangements of large areas of the world.

There are two main human groupings of interest, the True Bloods and the Black Road. Both are organized in clans under the leadership of a thane, and there is a high thane for each civilization. There was a schism a while ago inspired by the visions of a poor fisherwoman heralding the existence of a Hooded God and the predestination of each human fate. The followers of the Hooded God were defeated in the ensuing war, and exiled to the really cold northern wastes, where they built the Black Road civilization with the goal of returning and taking “their land” back from the True Bloods. There were occasional wars, but an uneasy equilibrium held until the events of Winterbirth.

The Kyrinin are grouped in clans too, though with animal names as befitting forest people. The main clans we meet are the White Owl and the Fox, which are blood enemies and enjoy no better pastime than killing each other and any human encroaching on their areas.

ANALYSIS: I truly loved the first two books in the series so I was very surprised at my strong negative reaction toward "Fall of Thanes" and I revisited the book just to make sure it was not me having a "bad reading day" before I finalized my review. I still am not 100% sure why I disliked it so much - "Fall of Thanes" was powerful, no question about it, but it rubbed me completely the wrong way almost from the beginning.

I think that a lot of my dislike boils down to the author making the characters one-dimensional archetypes instead of the fully realized ones in books 1/2 and in consequence I lost any connection to the story, my suspense of disbelief got breached and I could not care less what happened next, finishing the book just to see where it goes.

Shadowhand becomes a non-character, a puppet; Aeglyss has scenes that reminded me of the Star Wars Emperor trying to seduce Luke to the Dark Side which make for a good movie but I generally do not want that one dimensionality in the books I read; Orisian reminded me at times of the "hero on the quest at all costs" and I thought Mr. Ruckley very courageous in not taking the easy way out and actually showing what the consequences of the "at all costs" are, but I still disliked the way he penned Orisian here. And I could continue. Only Kanin retains a nuanced personality and he is at best a "secondary" main character not that important in the grand scheme of things and not enough to balance the rest.

Also while the action follows naturally from previous volumes, let us remember that the author decides where to go and there are always various choices on how to proceed; so from what the author chose to emphasize and de-emphasize respectively, many of the choices just did not work out for me overall. In a way I expected a different book and I just did not like the book I got.

I hope other people will like it and again I do not want to say that "Fall of Thanes" is a bad book; it is just a "not for me" book which happened to be the ending of a trilogy from which I loved the first two books.


Anonymous said...

me, I stopped reading Ruckley with Winterbirth mostly due to cardboard characters. It read like a paper about historical event. Tedious.
Nice to see that FBC is able to write something beside a "highly highly recommended" review.

Liviu said...

I loved Winterbirth but I like historical fiction and I review it here once in a while :)

Regarding reviews - personally I tend not to spend too much time on books that I do not love, just browse them and put them aside, or in the rarer cases I finish them for a reason or another I rarely bother to write up a review.

I read 114 books so far in 09, over 70 being 09 releases and mostly bought by me or got from the library and I could review say about 36 here so far, possibly less since more than 2 full reviews a week is beyond me, so of course I am choosing the books I love :)

Last week I finished 6 titles, of which 5 were 09 releases that I could review here, but I chose Ice Song *precisely* because it was the book I loved the most with Stalin Epigram (Littell) great too but historical fiction so less of a priority though it got a Noteworthy note, Little Stranger (Waters) well written, but empty and depressing, Genesis (Beckett) good but I read much more impressive short sf (Chiang anyone?) and The Book of God and Physics (Joven) a run of the mill thriller that I browsed fast through and I found it not worth spending more than an hour on.

For a complete list of my readings, fast takes and various ratings check Goodreads (User Name Liviu - needs free registration)

Cindy said...

I just wanted to make a quick comment on the "highly Highly recommended" review comment.

All the contributors of FBC are trying to focus on books we love. Therefore since we're attuned to what we love to read we're going to have a lot of reviews we like. However if it does fall short no one here is afraid to say why it fell short of our expectations and why we felt that way.

KP said...

Unfortunate that you did not like it as well as the first two. I was hoping for a larger contribution from Kanin but otherwise, I liked where and how Brian took the story. One of the better endings out there.

Liviu said...

I am happy you liked it; it just did not work for me, but as mentioned I loved the first two books and I would like to see more from Mr. Ruckley

Mihai A. said...

I loved the first two books in the series and I am looking forward to see how Brian Ruckley finishes his trilogy. That will be pretty soon since I just received "Fall of Thanes" :)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous - you have a good point. If every review says "highly highly recommended" (which they nearly all do) how can anyone discern which titles are truly superior? We need more critical interaction, else we cannot trust so many "highly highly recommended" reviews.

Liviu said...

This is a great point and one I've been thinking deeply about since I decided to start reviewing - again note that I've been around online sff since Usenet in the mid 90's, saw people come and go, sites come and go and thought about doing "formal" reviews for many years now even though I have not started until Robert approached me last May or June.

For me review sites were always about finding great books to read - and I bought countless books based on Emerald City, based on Robert's reviews here, based on Jonathan McCalmont reviews (some positive, some negative - you want critical stuff check his reviews, though sadly he sort of stopped outside comments on selected sites since after all being a true critic means taking a lot of nasty stuff from true fans and after a while it gets tiresome)

But I see very well the other side of the argument as expressed above and today as there is more and more competition in the sff space, publisher's budgets are slashed and the move to e-arcs which cost nothing per extra-copy once done still in its infancy, I see the pressures to be "in"

Since my goal has always been to showcase and spotlight books/authors I love, every book I formally review means another one I "unreview" and time/energy is limited but also since I do not care overly much for being "in" and since FBC is still a "chorus" so I do not feel comfortable doing fast capsules of all the (much more) numerous books I read as compared to the ones reviewed here, I sort of made a compromise decision:

- review only what I love or it disappoints me badly, but generally have strong opinions on - no "meh" stuff

- have a clear voice; do "I" reviews so people know precisely where I stand, how their tastes match with mine...

- Use Goodreads for *all* books I try, including snarky lines on 1 star books; use comments here and posts here to talk about more books I can formally review

Anonymous said...

I just finishe Fall of Thanes, and I think the review was right on. It became a chore to read about 100 pages in. I had devoured the previous two books in the trilogy within a day or two. The dark and brutal mood in the book became tedious and boring, and in the end, I found that I didn't really care what happened to Orisian, Anyara,or even Taim who was my favorite character.

Anonymous said...

The review is dead on.

I, too, was disappointed, with the use of the Shadowhand, and the entire lack of the vast well-developed subplots of political intrigue that permeated the first two books.

Also, the Kirinin became such a non-entity, and in particular the relationship between Orisian and Ess'yr, so carefully evolved in the first two books ends up being a waste of ink.

I think most of all was not the fact that many long developed characters are ignored, but that there is no vindication to all the prior development, especially with Wain and Shraeve. In this, I disagreed with Ruckley's choices.

It almost seemed like Ruckley was tired of writing the series and wanted it over with.
I was left wanting so much more after the amazing beginning in Winterbirth and Bloodheir.

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