Friday, April 23, 2010

Master of None by Sonya Bateman

Gavyn Donatti is a thief. At the beginning of Master of None, he's on the run from thugs employed by a man who hired Donatti to steal an antique knife for him. Donatti did--but then he lost the knife.

Donatti is attempting to escape when a man appears and rescues him. Ian, it turns out, is a djinn. He tells Donatti he's there to help him achieve his life's purpose, but the reality is much different, as Donatti finds out slowly. Donatti is the mortal descendant of Ian himself, and Ian needs his help to track down another djinn who wants to rule the world. Or something close enough to that, anyway. The plot is basically a nonstop car chase for two-thirds of the book, and then it's a long confrontation that essentially takes place in one room.

Everyone in the book, including Donatti himself, repeatedly calls him a loser. I kept waiting for his hidden smarts to show, but they never do. He reveals abilities when Ian teaches him how to do things that djinns can do, but he never proves that he's particularly clever. He's a nice enough guy, but he's not exactly hero material and he never comes across as a hero even when he's doing heroic stuff. He's just going through the motions because that's what the author needs him to do.

That's a problem with most of the book. Events happen not because they grow out of previous events, but because the plot needs them to happen. There are a lot of characters along for the car chases and they all argue constantly, usually about why they shouldn't have to do what someone else told them to do--and then they screw things up so that the plot can advance. Donatti does a lot of screwing up. If the characters get too stuck, a little bit of magic saves the day, but if things start going too smoothly, the magic runs out. This happens over and over and over again. I felt kind of sorry for Bateman's characters by the end, particularly poor Donatti.

Donatti takes more abuse in this book than any character I think I've ever encountered. From the opening pages to the very end, he's constantly hit, kicked, shot, tasered, smacked around, tortured, insulted, and beat up. I question the need for the extended torture scenes, which I thought went on for too long for no particular purpose except to show that the bad guy is really bad. So much happens to Donatti, in fact, that I eventually stopped registering it. It doesn't slow him down appreciably; if he gets too knocked around, Ian heals him, unless the plot requires him to stay down for a little while. Because I stopped caring about the damage dealt to Donatti, I stopped caring about Donatti's problems too. He didn't seem particularly concerned with them either.

Despite the lackluster plot, I did like a lot about the book. Donatti's relationship with his sometime girlfriend Jazz is believable (even if I found Jazz really, really, really annoying and largely unbelievable as a character), and Ian's long-distance relationship with his wife is moving. I liked Ian, for that matter; his motivations and personality are both much more powerful and interesting than Donatti's are. His weaknesses made him appear much stronger than Donatti, who basically just functions as a punching bag--getting hit and bouncing back without lasting damage. If I read the sequel, it'll be because I want to find out what happens to Ian, not Donatti.

I just didn't care enough about Donatti's situation or the complicated political problems of the djinn world to invest too much into the book. I could have put it down at any point and never come back to it, and I'd never have wondered what happened in the end. I didn't find the ending especially satisfying, either, since it should have happened about 50 pages earlier--except that poor loser Donatti screwed up again so that the plot would drag out that much longer.

B&N link


Alan W. Davidson said...

"Events happen not because they grow out of previous events, but because the plot needs them to happen."

That's a good observation, KC. I worry that what I write falls into that category sometimes.

K.C. Shaw said...

I'm sure I do the same thing in my writing too. I just hope an editor calls me on it at an early stage whenever I do.

Anonymous said...

K.C., thanks so much for taking the time to read my book and write a review, and for being honest with your thoughts. I appreciate that.

And I think it's kind of cool that your book title and mine go together (Jack of All Trades, Master of None!) - and that we both write non-standard urban fantasy races. I've always been interested in the Fae, too. :)

K.C. Shaw said...

Aw, now I feel kind of bad for ragging on the book so much. There was a lot I liked about it, and I do plan to pick up the sequel.

I hadn't noticed the "jack of all trades/master of none" thing until you mentioned it. Cool. :)