The Gross National Debt

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nine Gates - book review


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I do not like book series that take several editions to tell a complete story. I like to have the whole story wrapped up in one book and I don't care if it runs to 500 pages. Cliffhangers annoy me. Immensely.

But, as I haunt the remainder bins at various stores, I sometimes wind up getting a book which is part of trilogy. Then I have to poke and prod and look for the remaining books in that series so I can get the whole story.

Last week I picked up Nine Gates, book two of the 13 Orphans series by Jane Lindskold.

This one was tough, tough to get into. Lindskold jumped right into the story of this book without giving the reader an backstory (which I appreciate even as I don't like trilogies. I don't need to walk the same real estate twice).

Compounding the problem is some main characters in the book have two names, a Chinese-based named to reflect their magical nature and power and their American-mundane name. These names are used interchangeably by Lindskold without explanation. That means the reader is left wondering exactly who Lindskold is writing about until an explanation is offered later in the book.

It took me about halfway through the novel to get into the book enough that I felt comfortable reading it. This, despite a rocking action-packed opener that hooked me immediately. Not many SF-F authors are willing to open a book and immediately and permanently cripple a main character as Lindskold does. That opening battle scene lends an immediate sense of realism to her work. In a pitched battle, the good guys and the bad guys die.

I am less impressed with her use of the Chinese mah jong tiles as the basis for spells. Through use of Ch'i, the life force Chinese believe inhabits us all, power is invested in the game times. Tiles are press, cast and inscribed with mah-jong characters. Ch'i is invested in the tiles during the making process.

To access and activate the spell, a tile is crushed, releasing the power. This also, as Lindskold has her characters admit, limit the number spells a 'caster can carry. It's also inconvenient, as she notes. Fumbling for a specific tile while someone is rushing at you with a sword is a good way to die.

The book also ended a bit less tidily than I wanted. In fantasy novels, there often will be some Deus Ex Machina. The trick is to hide it and make it blend in. Lindskold only does a fair job of this.

Maybe I'd have a different overall opinion of this work had I read 13 Orphans first. I suggest anyone interested in this trilogy start with 13 Orphans first. I hope it'll make Book 2 and presumably Book 3 an easier read.

But I reads 'em as I can get my hands on 'em. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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