Non-Review: The Sleeping God by Violette Malan

January 17, 2010 at 8:48 am (fantasy, negativity, non-reviews) (, )

I feel a need to mention up front that the fact that I found this book unreadable does not mean that it’s universally unreadable – an obvious point, considering people at DAW must have read it before they published it in 2007.

On its face, and probably as much as four-fifths of the time, The Sleeping God is technically competent at the sentence level.  It’s the other one-fifth that’s the problem; to my ear, its rhythm, balance, and timing are off.   A huge amount of conveying information in prose is the choice of detail and the timing of its presentation.  I have a nice, clear little example of the problem from early in the book (the book itself has gone back to the library, so this is copied from Violette Malan’s website):

“The market?” Parno said dryly, bracing his feet as Warhammer, not as well trained as Dhulyn’s Bloodbone, shied slightly, pulling him forward.

My problem with this short paragraph is both minor and, multiplied repeatedly throughout the book, significant.   When I speak of choice of detail, rhythm, and so forth, I mean that this sentence would be better, to my ear, if it read:

“The market?” Parno said dryly, bracing his feet as Warhammer shied slightly, pulling him forward.

(1) The names of the two horses had been given before, so there was no reason to specify that Bloodbane belonged to Dhulyn; (2) there was no need to mention Bloodbane or the horses’ training at all.   It’s unnecessary detail that interrupts the (admittedly minor) action in this short paragraph.  Also, (3) I’m not convinced that “dryly” is the best word in this context; it means something between “wryly” and “ironically,” and all that’s happened is that Dhulyn stopped and said, “Did you hear that?”  So where did “dryly” come from?

After considerable thought, I believe that most of what I’m seeing here (and elsewhere) is a flaw in point of view.  This particular part of this scene is written from Parno’s point of view, in the close-focus third-person style that allows limited views of what’s going on in the point-of-view character’s head.  But in this little paragraph, why would Parno spare even an instant’s thought for the relative training levels of these horses?  That one short clause breaks point of view, undermining the narrative’s credibility (and incidentally irritating this particular text addict).

No writer is perfect in maintaining point of view (and Malan does handle shifting between points of view quite well, from what I read), but this insertion of irrelevant detail happens often enough in this book to bother me.

I did read far enough to be bugged by another choice of the writer (and/or editor): the antagonist’s point of view is given the occasional paragraph of unexplained diffuse malice, interspersed with the rest.   Since Dhulyn and Parno go on for some time after the dramatic opening scene not even knowing that there *is* an antagonist, these insertions served to make me frustrated that they didn’t notice what was going on.  Without them, the pair would have known something strange, unsettling, and dangerous had just happened, but their lack of understanding of the source would have seemed more perfectly natural.  The reader (me!) would have received the revelations at the same time as them, instead of hearing the ominous villain’s theme music in the background the whole time.

I would have liked to read this book, since it otherwise seems pretty good (leaving aside the appearance of another pet peeve of mine, the Significant Capitalized Noun that still isn’t a proper noun even with a capital letter on it).  I actually tried reading sections of the middle and even the end, to see if it improved, but … no.  And the end was … pretty cool in one way, and frustrating in another.  In case you want to read it for yourself, I won’t say more (except that this, too, could have been mended by not having seen bits of the antagonist’s point of view all along).

And this non-review is more than long enough now.


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