Monday, 8 December 2008

‘All the Windwracked Stars’ – Elizabeth Bear (Tor Books)


After an abortive attempt at reading L.E. Modesitt Jr’s ‘The Lord Protector’s Daughter’ (the copy that I was sent turned out to have a large number of pages missing...) I was after a book that looked like a similarly quick read to get me through a weekend that turned out to be a lot busier than normal. Stupid Christmas...
Elizabeth Bear’s latest book looked like just the thing, not only did it look a fairly quick read (three hundred and sixty eight pages) but the blurb promised an intriguing mixture of Norse myth and ‘end of the world apocalyptic sci-fi’ that piqued my interest. It was a shame then that the story inside only did half the job it promised as far as I was concerned...

Two thousand years ago, the actions of the last Valkyrie and her Valraven (steed of the Valkyrie) meant that Ragnarok did not destroy the world of Valdyrgard, condemning it instead to a slow and drawn out death but also allowing magic and technology to work together in the meantime. Two thousand years on, Muire (the last Valkyrie) lives in the last surviving city, ruled by the mysterious Technomancer, on a dying planet. Life as an immortal doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises for Muire until the day that a vow of vengeance leads her to realise that she is no longer the only Child of Light in the city. Mingan the Wolf has arrived and he is hunting....

Ever since I watched the Doctor Who ‘Utopia’ episode I’ve had a little soft spot for tales that are set on dying worlds. Everything must come to an end sometime and if you’re stuck on a dying world in its last few years then what do you do? If any endeavour is ultimately pointless then do you do anything at all? The higher ranking populace of Valdyrgard haven’t given up yet and they have plans to try and claim back something from the night. Everyone else, in the undercity, is simply trying to survive from day to day.
Bear is light on the details but still manages to paint a bleak yet compelling picture of a world teetering on the edge of death. The stoicism of its people keep things interesting, they haven’t given up so I didn’t give up either (despite, well... more on that in a bit).

The story itself is part detective mystery with elements of fantasy and sci-fi which swirl around, bouncing off each other and almost having me believe that this is how things could turn out if the Ragnarok (of Norse myth) never happened. The twist, which the whole story hangs upon, is worth sticking around for as well as it does turn things on their head and sends certain characters in new and interesting directions.

The biggest problem I had with ‘All the Windwracked Stars’ however was that despite the concept, setting and plot being interesting the pace of the story itself was incredibly slow. This was really infuriating as I’d invested enough of myself in the story only to find it took its own sweet time getting to where it needed to go... There is a lot of introspection going on which serves to build up the background of each character but characters that spend too much time thinking aren’t actually doing anything. I could understand this approach if this book was going to be the beginning of a series but it reads very much as a stand alone affair. At some points the book was so slow that I found myself getting sucked into a slow and plodding rhythm and then having to go back and re-read a couple of pages where something pivotal happened and I didn’t notice!

I was also left wondering at times just what sort of a book ‘All the Windwracked Stars’ was setting itself up as. I’ve got nothing against sex in books provided it does something for the plot, there was a fair bit of sex here but all of it arose from introspection and didn’t seem to advance the plot in any way. Consequently, I was left wondering what the point of it was...

‘All the Windwracked Stars’ looks like a short read but it’s pacing makes it feel longer than it actually is and this was a big problem as far as I was concerned. There is a good story hiding in there though which is worth a look...

Seven out of Ten

PS Scroll down the page, a little bit, for a chance to win a copy of 'All the Windwracked Stars' and see if you agree with what I thought of the book...

4 comments:

SQT said...

I have such a hard time reading Elizabeth Bear. I have tried but I always lose focus.

Brian Propp said...

I wonder if she needs better editors or to simply STOP BEING so damn prolific. She is full of great ideas and interesting content, but her writing style is extremely uneven and often structurally awkward. Makes bits extremely difficult to follow and/or make sense of sometimes. She might need to spend more time sharpening up the prose and slow down her release schedule.

Calibandar said...

I agree that she's a bit of a hrd read. I read three chapters from this book and while I was drawn to anything in Fantasy with Norse mythology, I decided buying against it.

Graeme: the book is the first of 3 in a series called the Edda of Burdens.

Graeme Flory said...

SQT - This was exactly the problem I had which was a real shame as the concept seemed like a good one.

Hi Brian - I've just had a little look on Google and I didn't realise (until now) that Elizabeth Bear is that prolific... That might explain a few things.

Hi Calibander - Thanks for letting me know that this is the beginning of a series. That might explain a few things as well...