Now this book is just too silly for words: an absurdly earnest mixture of Modesitt-style fantasy, pop psychology, and romance novel shtick. Let me tell you a little about it.
There are five branches of magic, Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Spirit. Every person in Green's world is more or less capable in one of these areas. Most people are Lows. Some are Middles, and some are Highs--and every person revealed to be a Middle must go to the capitol and be tested to see whether or not they are Highs. Our tale concerns five such people, one from each of the five aspects. This is Very Significant, for the nation in which they live is ruled by the Ruling Blending. The Ruling Blending is a team of five people, one from (of course) each of the five aspects, who have not only learned to merge their magic together, but who won their place through fierce competition.
This competition is held every twenty-five years, and the winning Blending rules the nation for the next twenty-five years. A great deal is at stake, here, and so of course there is great incentive to skew the results. Our five heroes are not supposed to win, and of course they will, though not in this book (it's the first of five in a series called, natch, "The Blending").
So who are our charming five? First, there's a sea-captain who has no interest in being a High, even for the power the position holds; he just wants to live on the sea. Why? Because although he's a rough, tough, extremely handsome well-built man, he's claustrophobic. He simply cannot stand to be cooped up inside.
Then there's the astonishingly beautiful young woman who has been seriously traumatized by a forced marriage to elderly sadistic lecher whose business interests her father wished to control. The old lecher is dead, now, and her father wishes to marry her off again. She'd rather die.
Which brings us to our young gentleman, the sheltered, protected son of one of the highest-born ladies in the realm, one of those poisonous women who live through their children. He's never before been anywhere without his mother, and he has no idea of how the world works. But he's extremely handsome, and remarkably well-built, because one of the servants showed him how to exercise.
Then there's our astonishingly beautiful lady of the evening with a heart of gold, the leading courtesan from a major provincial city. She's no interest in being a High, either, but coming to the capitol to be tested got her out from under the thumb of her erstwhile madam. Remarkably, she's the one with the least emotional baggage, even though she doesn't think that love is real.
And finally there's the farmer's son from the boondocks, a truly decent salt-of-the-earth type who sincerely wants to be a High. He's hampered by two things: the fear of trying to use more magical power than he can control and thereby turning himself into a vegetable, and the narrow and limited moral code he grew up with that tells him that the courtesan's profession is simply wrong, a problem since he's rapidly falling in love with her--and she with him, although she doesn't believe him. Have I mentioned that he's extremely handsome, with a hard body from all that farm work?
And so all of them have baggage, and all of them have issues, and oh, they all have such wonderful and growthful advice for each other, and such astonishing insights into what makes everyone else tick. It's like inviting Oprah Winfrey into your fantasy novel. It's so wonderful to watch all of them growing into healthfulness. And then, of course, five of them are such wonderful people, not like any of the other folks in the story, all of whom are twisted, evil, manipulative users--at best.
I'll give the author this much--despite all the anachronistic pop-psychology and the absurd characters, and despite the five-fold symmetry that means we get to hear about all of the testing and training in five times over in five slightly different yet still tedious flavors--despite all that, I say, she managed to hold my attention to the end of the book. I'm not sure whether that means that Ms. Green can really spin a tale, or whether she just pressed enough of the right buttons amid all of the unintentionally hilarious wrong ones to keep me going.
I've given the book to Jane to read, because I want her opinion. I know a little bit about being a man, having been one lo these many years, and the leading men in this tale don't strike me as being men. Instead, they strike me as a romance novelist's fantasy of what desirable men should be like. But it could be that I'm doing the romance genre a disservice, as I don't read them.
I'm mildly curious about the next book in the series, as the whole testing/training/bootcamp kind of tale appeals to me for some reason; it's why I like L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s books. But it's not a good sign when you find yourself giggling at a book rather than with it.
We'll see what Jane says.Posted by Will Duquette at November 2, 2003 09:24 PM