Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review - The Light and the Dark by Marvin Amazon

Short review: A disjointed story that includes a conflict between anime style Gods leading to an interlude involving hard-boiled quasi-FBI agents followed by an epic fantasy quest.

Huge shapeshifting gods
Add three hard boiled detectives
And an epic quest

Disclosure: I received this book as a review copy. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: One thing that plagues the genre fiction field is the prevalence of the book series. When executed well, a series can allow an author to nurture and develop characters, layer together complex interrelationships, and weave together extended plots. But the problem is that so many authors who have never written a single book in their lives seem to think that they should start their writing career by embarking on a multi-volume epic series, and as a result, bite off more than they can feasibly chew. The Light and the Dark, the second novel by Marvin Amazon, bills itself as the first volume of The Corin Chronicles, and while the author shows talent, tackling such a huge and grandiose project so early in his career results in a book that feels disjointed and frustratingly incomplete.

The Light and the Dark is divided into four broad sections. The first involves a show down on the planet Corin between warring anime style gods that reads a little bit like Dragonball Z put into print form, with massive armies of "normal" warriors clashing, followed by increasingly powerful monsters thrown into the fray, until at the end, the various gods all transform into their "giant" forms and stride across the battlefield. Reading the descriptions of the gods changing from their "human" forms to their "battle" forms, becoming giant metal or stone figures with over-sized swords and so on felt a little bit like reading the carefully scripted animation sequences from something like Voltron in which the giant robot reveals itself. Overall, this is the weakest part of the book, which is unfortunate, because this is also the opening section of the book. Overall, this part of the book serves as little more than exposition that sets up the remainder of the plot and probably would have been better if it had simply been left out and worked in as a mythic background. In short, having the gods "on stage" reduces them from being actually epic and instead plants the image of them as a collection of Ultraman clones with cool glowing swords.

Once the story moves on from the over the top anime style clash of the gods, the book improves considerably. There is an interlude detailing the flight of a woman named Selena and her strangely marked son as they attempt to escape Corin and find safety. Pursued by forces loyal to the god Auphora, who has decreed that the prophesied "Anointed One" must be killed, Selena has traveled via the "Shallows" to reach the planet Tyranis. One of the quirky elements of The Light and the Dark is that despite being a story of interstellar scope, the technology used by the various actors for the bulk of the book is decidedly medieval, with warriors carrying swords and spears, and travelers riding horses or winged beasts. This combination of space travel and sword wielding combatants mounted on horses only adds to the anime feel of the story, and given that there is no explanation for the retrograde technology, heightens the unrealism of these sections of the story. Despite this the tale of Selena's flight is still interesting, especially given that she seems to inspire a level of loyalty towards he from those she meets that seems almost implausible. And this implausibility raises the interesting question: Does this intense loyalty stem from Selena's convincing demeanor, or is it the result of the influence of her magically inclined child? No matter the source of the loyalty, it enables Selena to accomplish her lone goal, ending this portion of the book.

The next section of the book is the most interesting, involving the pursuit of an international criminal by what are apparently agents of the United States government. Veteran agents Karl and William working at the behest of a U.S. Senator have taken on the responsibility of tracking down a man they know as Siroco. In their pursuit, they are required to take on a rookie agent named Andrew, who serves as a means for the veteran agents to explain who they are and who they are looking for. As the story develops, it becomes apparent that the little organization is not exactly completely legal, and that Siroco is actually the "Anointed One" who had been the child in the previous section. So the reader is confronted with the "heroes" in this section of the story hunting down a "villain" who was the innocent child in the previous portion. This section is the most interesting of the book because Amazon has placed the viewpoint characters in the position of being opposed to the viewpoint characters of the previous (and as it turns out, the following) sections of the book. In effect, the three pseudo-government agents chasing Siroco hold the same position in the story as that held by the minions of Auphora who were relentlessly tracking down Selena in the previous segment. And that is the inversion that makes this book interesting: Despite the fact that we are told that the god Corin, and by extension his "Anointed One" are inimical to Earth's interests, we root for them when they are the downtrodden underdog protagonists. And when we follow Karl, William, and Andrew, we root for them, until it becomes clear who they are relentlessly tracking down, at which point our sympathies become confused. Unfortunately, this portion of the story more or less simply stops without any kind of resolution.

After the high point of the hunt for Siroco, the book leaves that story unfinished and moves back to the planet Corin where everything started. After Auphora locked the orb with one side in perpetual daylight from facing the sun while the other is held in perpetual night, those remaining on the day side of the planet have endured the torment of unending daylight. In an attempt to return the gods that Auphora had vanquished, King Oncelot of Corin proposes to raise one of the "hyper-lords" by offering the eligible men of his kingdom to serve as potential vessels for a reborn demigod. After some twists and turns, he instead sends his son, Prince Ramon, on a quest to the dark side of the planet to find Corin's "three philosophers" who he hopes will provide the key to returning the ancient gods to the planet. A fairly typical epic quest follows with brave warriors carrying swords, spears, and bows ride across the landscape, finding mystical portents and unexpected magical boons before vanquishing the dark side's vicious guardians and reaching their goal. The story has some court intrigue thrown in for good measure, but like the previous section, the story simply ends in the middle of the action with all of the plot threads left hanging open.

And this is the main problem with the book. Not the over-the-top anime style sequences. Not the quirky mixture of space travel and spears. Not the fact that every government agent and police officer chasing Siroco has the exact same personality and speech pattern. Not the fact that Prince Ramon's heroic companions are all virtually interchangeable, differentiated only by the weapons they carry. No, the main weakness of the book is that it simply doesn't have an ending. After four very loosely connected vignettes, the book simply stops. I assume that the various story lines will be picked up and continued in later books in the series, but for now the reader is expected to take on faith that Amazon will be able to effectively able to wrap up the many competing threads of the plot. The Light and the Dark is not so much a book as it is the first half of what should have been a longer book. And that leaves this volume on a fine balance between the handful of interesting plot elements on the one hand, and the unfinished feel of the book on the other, meaning that I find it difficult to recommend it without being able to read the others. Since the later installments have yet to be published, this book gets a cautious nod, with the caveat that any reader who picks it up should not read it expecting a full story.

Subsequent book in the series: The Transformation of Adam Higgins

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