I knew I was in trouble when I checked how much further I had to read and found out I was only at the 4% mark. I’m a huge fan of a number of Mercedes Lackey’s series so reading this novel was not my first brush with this author; it was however, one of my most disappointing ones.
Joyeaux (Joy) Charmand is a Hunter who, along with her pack of magical hounds, fights the creatures who infiltrate our world from the Otherside. She has trained in a secret hilltop monastery of Tibetan monks called Masters who use their magic to kill the monster invaders. Faster than you can say Holy League of Shadows Batman Begins we learn that Joy is on board the Hunger Games train to the capital city of Apex to join the band of (televised for entertainment) hunters who protect the city from invaders. Then we get a boring history lesson on just about everything in her world. I’ll give you the shortened version.
There were plagues, which we cured. Storms got worse, which we couldn’t do anything about, and which is why only the Air Corps flies now and we rely on trains. The South and North poles switched, which we can’t exactly do anything about either. There was a nuke set off on purpose by Christers on the other side of the world. And the Breakthrough, when all the magic and monsters happened. . . The Christers of that time thought it was their Apocalypse, and the Masters say they were all confidently expecting to be carried up to Heaven while everyone that wasn’t them died horribly, or suffered for hundreds of years. Only that didn’t happen, even when some of them decided that the Apocalypse must need a kick-start like a balky engine, and set off some sort of nuke in what used to be Israel. They still didn’t get carried up to Heaven, not one, they just died like everyone else, so that’s why it’s called the Diseray instead of the Apocalypse.
Talk about telling rather than showing! The book is full of mind numbing info dumps like the above which completely slow down the pace of the story.
So we are on this train and Joy gets her first taste of Chocolike and everything is just hunky dory. By this point I’m mostly ready for humanity to die off and let the other side win when Kristin Cashore’s monsters make their appearance. Now I am totally ready for the other side to win. This particular monster has long silvery hair and lavender eyes. Like Cashore’s monsters in this case, “Even the wildest, most feral of them is gorgeous enough to make you gasp if you aren’t ready for it.” It’s blocking the route of the train and in order to protect the other passengers Joy is sent out to clear the tracks. Since this one is a mage she isn’t sure she will be able to defeat it but she works a simple spell that deceives him and the armaments on the train chase him off, although they don’t kill him.
Then the train gets to Apex and quicker than you can shout “Mary Sue!” Joy climbs the ranks of the hunters, becomes the darling of the city, makes a Christer best buddy (and shows how superior she is by chastising him about his faith and then showering him with compassion) and finally winds the book up with a top rank and the biggest hunting pack the world has ever known.
The good news is that at about the 35% mark, roughly page 134, the book gets mildly interesting. Joy hunts some fascinating, deadly creatures and makes a mysterious enemy. The bad news is the author doesn’t let even that get too exciting. Joy is so clever, so creative, so talented that the monsters are really no match for her. Her perfection is unblemished unless you count a charming humility and being sweetly shy around good-looking boys as a flaw. Gag me. Am I really expected to believe that someone who could kick the butt of Tris and Katniss combined without breaking a sweat is the blushing, simpering kind on her off hours?
I mentioned it before but it’s worth repeating, we don’t get a sense of danger from what is happening. Joy makes allusions to the fact she might die but the author doesn’t allow us to fear for her at all. We dwell in a strange twilight where the shadows are menacing but present no more real threat to our heroine than a bunch of bunnies. There are token deaths but there is a disconnect from them that minimizes the impact.
And while Joy may make judgments about the rulers of the big bad city she sees nothing wrong with the way the monastery is keeping secrets from those defending Apex. It is clear that they can train hunters better than the people in charge but that subterfuge for the sake of autonomy is never addressed. Like a little girl, Joy sees her family and upbringing as perfect and questions very little about it.
I’ve mentioned all the different seeming inspirations from other works Ms. Lackey uses in this novel. To be clear, I’m not accusing her of plagiarism of any kind. I know there are probably no completely new stories to tell but mixing things up enough that people aren’t immediately reminded of another’s work is important. And perhaps the reason they immediately call to mind these others works is that Lackey gives no depth to her own. The events in Joy’s life echo other sci-fi/fantasy stories because the superficial similarity is all we see. Joy herself was far too two-dimensional. She was kind and good to everyone. She had no flaws and therefore, no humanity. She was caricature rather than character.
So that alone would have made this a bad book but one other thing really bugged me. I felt uncomfortable with the language used to describe The Folk (human like Others) such as in this scene:
The ones I’d seen in the distance, and the singleton I’d run up against were all feral; hair down past their knees, but all dreadlocks, braids, and straggles with feathers and carved stones and bits of bone braided in, dressed in skins with the hair still on, decorated with beads and trinkets and whatever other odd bits take their fancy.
When she encounters a member of the Folk who doesn’t meet that description she says: “This one was nothing like that. This one was something far more dangerous. This one was civilized.” I probably could have let that go if Joy had ended the book recognizing the Folk as sentient beings worthy of equality and compassion. She does not. Maybe it’s coming in the next novel but in this book they are dangerous villains. So it seemed to me that Ms. Lackey had her heroine describe a group of people as feral based upon them utilizing a form of dress and hairstyle used by non-Westerners. She then seems to reiterate her stance about them by reminding us that they aren’t civilized. This is a fantasy novel so there are no restrictions on how she could have described them, but I felt it showed a bit of bad taste to do so in this fashion.
So, badly written with weak characterizations, a Mary Sue heroine and including a scene whose language I found troublesome. No recommendation here.