Friday, May 6, 2016

Long and Unsatisfying: A Brief Review of The Chathrand Voyage Saga

The Chathrand Voyage saga by Robert V.S. Reddick has everything a story should have: well developed protagonists, threatening antagonists, engaging problem, interesting setting. I enjoyed the beginning of the series a great deal. The first book The Red Wolf Conspiracy introduced a world of high stakes manipulation and spying networking between two enemy empires: Arqual and Mzithrin. In the middle of these backstabbing plots is the giant ship The IMS Chathrand, purportedly on a voyage of peace. Pazel Pathkendle is a tarboy on this ship, and Thasha Isiq is the treaty bride who will wed a prince to seal the peace. In reality the authorities on the ship are setting into motion a series of events orchestrated by spy master Ort to destroy the Mzithrin from within. Unknown to them, a powerful sorcerer is planning to use this plot against the conspirators themselves, obtain the Nil Stone, and use it to destroy the world.

Too Long

I think the story's central problem is that it is too long. The action is divided by long periods of waiting, traveling, and talking around an issue instead of action. The dialogue is generally important, but the pacing is too slow. As a result, the reader comes up with solutions to each problem before the characters do, and I sat wondering why they were not taking action more often.

On that note, the characters often do not take action at all to solve a problem. A mirth girl named Klyst falls in love with Pazel by a magic misunderstanding, but he is never forced to choose between her and Thasha. He just avoids talking about it, doing anything decisive, or making promises to either of them. Eventually the problem seems to go away when the ship travels to the spell-erasing Red Storm. Pazel's best friend Neeps "catches" the mind plague, and will lose his intelligence becoming no more than an animal. Pazel and Thasha fret about it for a while, some solutions are suggested, but eventually they run into a group of people who find a solution and enact it without the friends' help. The Red Storm throws people hundreds of years into the future, and the characters all wonder how this will impact them, but then it turns out that the Red Storm is weakening (big surprise), so it only throws them five years ahead.

The end of the third book The River of Shadows was the most satisfying, as the conflict between the main characters and the evil sorcerer was finally won, as the series had been leading up to since the beginning. However, the saga continues, and without a clear antagonist, it flounders. There is nothing to do but travel to the place where they can throw the Nil Stone away, which can clearly only happen at the end, and which clearly must happen for the story to end.

Unsatisfying End

This book takes the whole "the world is saved, but not for me" bit too far.  In order to destroy the Nil Stone, Thasha must break down a wall inside herself that is keeping a centuries old sorceress from taking control of her body. Pazel is fiercely opposed to this plan, and the reader is sympathetic to his arguments. But, there is no other way, so he helps her to break down the wall by making her forget who he is with a Master Word. Thasha (now this old sorceress) takes the Nil Stone and continues the fight alone off in some other dimension/underworld place. There is no telling when she'll return, what she'll look like, or how old/young she will be.

Pazel returns to the others, but all his friends and everyone who ever knew him in the whole world have also forgotten him. Not even his sister with the crazy memory remembers him. Two of the good guys leave the world for a future realm. Another returns home to the girl he left behind and their child, but while he was gone, she married his brother. Neeps and his girl are married and leave together, but who knows how long that will last, since he has already had one adulterous relationship.

Neeps accused Pazel of being a "one-note whistle" at one point because he only had eyes for Thasha. Pazel agrees with him. He is so in love with her! She is so important to him! Has he forgotten Klyst? Who he had feelings for and couldn't let go? Nope, cus the two of them get together in the end--forget Thasha, who knows when he'll see her again.

The story seems to intend to follow the classical monomyth, but falls apart during the return sequence. The boons they give to humanity include life continuing as normal. Oh, and those clever conspiracies and spy networks? They became less important than saving the world, not interconnected with it. Highly disappointing as I had invested much of my interest in those characters and plot threads.

Theme of Loss

Everytime it is remarked that the main characters aren't children anymore it is not with satisfaction--look how they've developed as characters--but with sorrow. They have lost so much. Time, friendships, love, trust, etc. It is hardly surprising that the outlook should be so negative when most of the story acts on them instead of the other way around.

There is no sense of victory or pride in their accomplishment. The reader is left wondering whether the cost was worth it. I would advise against this saga as entertainment.

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