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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Up Jim River" by Michael Flynn (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Michael Flynn Blog
Order "Up Jim River" HERE
Read an Excerpt from the Novel HERE
Read FBC Review of "The January Dancer"

INTRODUCTION: "Up Jim River" is the direct sequel to "The January Dancer" which I described as a "Celtic space opera" in my review linked above. Since "The January Dancer" was published in 2008 which was a superb year for sf novels, it barely missed my top 5 but it was of that caliber and last year it would have easily been my second sf novel of the year. So these were the very high expectations I came to "Up Jim River" and they were mostly but not fully met, mainly because of a structural issue I will touch upon in the analysis.

"Up Jim River" stands at about 320 pages divided into 18 very evocatively named chapters. The book starts with a glossary of characters and a map, while the ending is just superb, setting up a third book that should be a cracker. The main POV's are the interlude ones from "The January Dancer" - "the Harper" Mearana and "the Scarred Man" Donovan, but almost everyone of importance from The January Dancer makes at least a cameo appearance.

"Up Jim River" is mostly a Vancian travelogue with the universe of "The January Dancer" taking place of Vance's Gaean Reach, so while it takes place in a space opera context, the novel is closer to a picaresque adventure than anything else.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS "Up Jim River" starts 20 years after the main events in The January Dancer but immediately after the interludes that tell of those events.

We reconnect with the main characters from the novel, but here the story is simpler - Lucia Thompson aka Mearana, the 19 year old daughter of "Hound" Bridget-ban - super agent for the League, one of the two main powers of the universe and the "good guys" - is looking for her disappeared mother; of the three men who were with Bridget on the January Dancer mission and which all incidentally can be Lucia's father though it's pretty obvious soon who is the one, two are also Hounds/Pups and the organization had looked for Bridget for two years until officially giving up, so Lucia has the only choice to find Donovan aka The Fudir aka The Scarred Man aka The Teller of Tales in The January Dancer as we saw then without really knowing the subtext until very late in that novel.

Donovan who seemingly stole away with the treasure from Bridget, Hugh and Greystroke, was in reality broken by his former masters, "Those of Names" who lead the Confederation, the other major power of the series and "the bad guys" and now is a useless drunk with 7 personalities warring in his head, though the Fudir and Donovan are the two dominant ones.
Of course Mearana "convinces" Donovan to help her look for her mother at least for a while and together they embark on a trip that will take them to quite strange places.

So Up Jim River is a "travelogue" novel, with Mearana and Donovan retracing Bridget's path and exploring the odder corners of the League and its boundaries and here lies the main weakness of the novel in that the attempt to create weird cultures falls somewhat flat because it conflicts with the Celtic flavored archaic language of the novel and the result is partly messy, partly silly and only occasionally convincing, while descending into farce at least once with a so called "Emperor" that only wants to escape his planet and stiffing duties.
Since the respective planet was devastated in an Earthquake and Bridget led the rescue mission for the League and "annointed" this minor bureaucrat as "Emperor", the personage in cause tries to use the coming of Lucia to run away with quite silly results. Adding to that the mannerisms of Donovan's acquired servant Billy which are way overdone and Billy's dialogue is very annoying in a way The Fudir's was not in The January Dancer.

On the plus side, Donovan makes for a great character with his warring personalities, inner conflict as well as the need to deal with the legacy of mistrust as far as the League and the Hounds goes, while Mearana is quite endearing and you cannot help but root for her to find if not her mother, at least concrete evidence of Bridget's fate.

There is action and intrigue, the big secret that Bridget had been investigating is revealed in appropriate drips and drabs, but some of the major twists of the novel are seen
too easily. Up Jim River has enough goodies - superb style, page turner, characters and action - to compensate for the flawed structure so I would still rate it an A but I expected more after the superb A++ of The January Dancer.

The sequel implied by the ending seems to get back to the large scale picture so I am definitely interested; the universe imagined by Mr. Flynn is superb and has lots of possibilities, but the choice of the archaic Celtic-peppered language which worked so well in The January Dancer since it added depth to the space opera feel, backfires here when it makes most of the multiple "weird" cultures that form such a main part of the novel, feel a bit silly and make-believe



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