Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The King's Bastard by Rowena Cory Daniels

I really tried hard to like this one, and I even succeeded for small portions at a time. It's not a bad book, but it had a habit of getting underneath my fingernails.

The basic foundation is good: there's your Favorite Kingdom, with its Troubled Princes, its Queen With Secrets, its Mischievous Young Princess and even (I like this part) its Associated Warrior-Monk Monastery. There's even a good bit of magic tossed in: "affinity" (whatever the hell that means) which seems to be nothing but groovy for people to get but is nonetheless considered a dirty sin. It's a good start for a book. I even liked the main characters, both good and bad: they had personalities, something my previous read lacked. So, fair points and a good start for Daniels.

The book flopped for two reasons, one of which is the author's fault and the other of which is probably just a pet peeve of mine. The former is coincidence: every single plot point in this book--every one, no exceptions--takes place because of sheer chance. Consider that by the end of the first chapter the hero has had his bowstring snap at just the wrong time, his buddy--an experienced warrior--has accidentally knocked a tree limb onto himself during a back-swing, and has thereby almost killed himself. Conversations are overheard at just the right or wrong time, people happen to arrive just as someone else is leaving, the important note happens to be on the table as someone walks in. Again, and again, and again. It's okay to let a few of these creep in, but at some point an important thing has to occur because a hero made it inevitable, not because the gods are playing tricks.

Okay, bad as that was, it doesn't make this book a deal-breaker; after all, the writing is reasonably good (nice descriptions in particular) and the foundation was, as I said, solid. What I can't forgive is that the major intricacies that make up the book's plot all relate to misunderstandings. Every character, again no exceptions, makes decisions based on what information they have to hide from others, or have incorrectly gleaned from others, in an elaborate game. A thinks (correctly) that B is gay (important plot point, actually); C tries to shield B so A and D both think C is gay too, which he's not. But no one will listen, and C can't clear his name without throwing B to the wolves. Meanwhile, E doesn't trust B because of what D said, and B can't clear his name without F talking--and neither A nor E will talk to F. Yuck.

In chapter after chapter, I kept getting the feeling that these people were all idiots. If they would just sit down together, talk frankly and listen to each other, there would have been no plot left at all. It's a little like an awkward holiday at the homestead: one aunt isn't talking to another aunt, and no one wants to talk about why. Elephants. Room. Annoying.

I hate books that turn out this way. Almost all the conflict in this book--not all (there are indeed invading armies) but almost all--is derived from misunderstandings and mistrust. It makes the whole book feel terribly contrived: nothing bad would've happened if the characters (a) hadn't had some horrible accident or (b) they had just explained what happened and everyone listened.

I got a copy of this book for review (thanks, KC!) and have since seen it on the BN shelves next to its sequels. I almost--almost--picked up one of those, but for all its good points I just couldn't subject myself to more of this horrible plot mechanic.

(Quick edit from KC to add that this book was sent us by the author for review.)

B&N link

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