Tuesday, February 15, 2005

50 Book Challenge #10: Banewreaker

I enjoyed Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel trilogy, especially the first installment, Kushiel's Dart. Sure, it's a combination bodice-ripper/fantasy brick, but it's enjoyable fluff. Carey's day job as a history professor makes her alternate history of European Christianity more compelling than it otherwise might be, and the characters are memorable.

Thus Banewreaker is a crushing disappointment. Billed as the first installment of another trilogy, it seems to be the product of a contest to import as much as possible from Paradise Lost into the Lord of the Rings plotline so Christopher Tolkien won't sue for copyright infringement. I haven't seen such blatant swiping of fantasy plot elements since Robert Jordan's Eye of the World.

-The creators of the universe, with exception of one rebel, live on an island over the sea after they estrange themselves from the greater world they created? Check.
-Said rebel, now a Dark Lord, has a continuously shadowed stronghold near an abandoned ruin of a white city? Check.
-Elves, Dwarves, Men, Wargs (er, "Weres"), and orcs (er, "Fjelltrolls") as the primary races? Check.
-Dark Lord uses black birds as messengers? Check.
-Human man tutored by non-human, last of his kingly line, is betrothed to the last of the Elvish princesses? And his name starts with an A? And her father's name starts with a C "E-L"? And she has two brothers? And he aspires to be "King of the West" and to raise his ancestor's banner? Check.
-Wizards sent by gods across the sea to fight the Dark Lord? And one has a staff? And he gets trapped after an underground confrontation with dark forces, but then reappears as a rider on a white horse? Check.
-The fall of the Dark Lord requires the cooperation of a Bearer of a heavy object, which he wears around his neck? And he is accompanied by a fat fellow member of his tribe? And they get separated from the group (which includes two men, an elf, a female archer, and the wizard) after the wizard's big underground battle? And one of the men gives his life so the rest can escape? Check.
-Large portions of the book involve using or obtaining jewels made from a now-perished source of power, one of which has been set in the sky as a star? Check.
-In a climatic sequence, a siege takes place at the city near a dragon's lair, the great golden dragon emerges and wreaks havoc, but is then shot by a single bold archer? Check.

The most interesting parts (and the only real connection between this and the Kushiel books) are the sensual and theological undercurrents. A large part of what made Carey's previous books so interesting was her carefully wrought divergences from traditional religions and the injection of earthy desire as a positive value into the system she created. Unfortunately, the clash of the titans is swamped by the scurrying of their pawns in this book, and all the moves are cribbed. I would not recommend this book to anyone. Reread Tolkien instead.
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