Monday, 1 September 2014

The Shadow at the Gate by Christopher Bunn

All right, decision time. I've now read the second book in a series that I am not enthralled with. The first book grabbed me just enough to make me go on to the second. This is where I decide if I finish the trilogy out, or let it lie right here.

And, you know? Yet again, it didn't set my world on fire, but yet again there was just enough to squeeze out a place for the third book in my future reads. It's hard when it's not much more than okay, but there are little sparks, and things I'm interested in enough.

It may be damning with faint praise, but it didn't piss me off. That, more than not making me enthusiastic, is what makes me drop an author. But oh, I want these to be just that little bit better that would really make them sing. As they are, they're mostly a mash-up of old fantasy tropes, and bring little new to the party.

Also, the big reveal? Was so obvious from about the first 50 pages of the book. As soon as they started to tell the story of this mysterious guy who had disappeared, I knew who it was. There was nobody else it could be, and no reason to bring up the story AGAIN and AGAIN and AGAIN if you weren't going to pay it off. Subtlety, Bunn. It might help.

The other part of the story is the emergence of evil back into the world where the four guardians of the elements have been quiescent. That's the part that keeps me interested, although it feels like maybe it's getting a little rote by this point. I'm not as interested in the children characters as I am in the avatars themselves. What must that be like? Those small glimpses of power hidden, lives lived, that's what I'm staying tuned for. But it is not the author's main focus.

The evil was a bit too scattered and disparate, too. This guy is evil, and maybe that guy, but he'll be dead shortly anyway, and oh, the evil thing is overtaking its controller over there, and it was just messy. Tighten up your evil. Or make that a main focus of the story, the chaos of evil, and how much that makes it more threatening or easier to fight. Go further one way or the other. That's all I ask.

And that's really my main complaint. This book strides down the middle path every time, and doesn't make any audacious moves. It would be far more interesting if he chose one aspect and committed to it, rather than trying to juggle the stories of the avatars with the street-rats with the crime lords with the swordsman with the academics from the magic academy with the nobility. It's too much, and as a result, nothing gets the attention it deserves. Either make this a longer book and spend more time, or, better, pick one or two of these aspects and focus the whole story.

It's not bad, it's just unfocused and pedestrian. But not bad enough to make me quit. I'll stick it out now - there's only one book left to go. There are small glimmers here of something more.

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