Setting of A Cruel Sun

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Alan Gibbons
Orion
1842551795
September 06

Hmm. Had this one for over three weeks and I�ve just finished. (Sorry Michael) My wife suggested that this initial sentence would suffice, but on we go.

Chapter One. Forces of light and of darkness. Mention of a �Nine� of heroes and heroines. A dark lord, a Black Tower (no, not the Liebfraumilch), a demon battle host. Any of that sound at all familiar?

Don�t get me wrong, I�m not at all anti-fantasy. I read and re-read The Lord of the Rings many times as a child. I consider Garth Nix to be �the business�: Ursula LeGuin even better. There is some tremendous stuff out there in this genre, but (to misquote Groucho Marx) Setting of a Cruel Sun just isn�t it.

Funnily enough, despite some of those early clich�s, lack of imagination isn�t the root of the problem in this book. There are a complex host of different peoples and even species imagined against a backdrop scented with our own Middle East. Roughly speaking they are grouped into the Hotec-Ra, the tyrants who have ruled the land with an iron hand (not a wooden foot or a piece of string�. Cf The Goon Show circa �59?), the Helati rebel slaves, who wish for a new era of equality and justice, and the fearsome Darkwing, a once-human, now life-hating demon lord. So, all the heroes have to do is defeat the overlords in a great battle and thwart the Darkwing�s scheme to destroy the life-giving sun and everyone can settle down to a bit of serious sunbathing with maybe a cocktail or three. Piece of cake, and (although the usual good-versus evil-for-the-fate-of-mankind fare) an okay fantasy plot.

The problem comes first that this is a sequel that really feels like one for at least fifty pages, if not more. The story opens at the end of another great battle, with the Nine just recovering from a previous victory, and feels like a strange mixture of a formal history being unfurled and glimpses of a large number of individuals with too many pasts and characteristics to possibly cram into the text. Result: a real hard slog for several chapters.

But even when I had worked out who everyone was and what their aims were, I still struggled. I think this is partly due to that uncomfortable mix mentioned above (great history versus personal events) a mix that Tolkien manages well in a much longer work that grew over decades of imagining and re-imagining but just feels rushed, messy and formulaic here. Add to this a correspondingly strange narrative style that sometimes has characters directly analysing their own motives and actions against the wider backdrop in a most unconvincing way - �What do I feel?� asks one particular traitorous villain, �Yes, I am jealous� There is comradeship among the enemy, whereas we Children of Ra cheat and deceive... I am without friends or confidants. In my loneliness, I envy my foe.� � and quite often brutally spells things out rather than letting us draw our own conclusions or allowing tension to mount: �The decision would have grave consequences. Before nightfall the next day, it would bring the swords of the Sol-ket down on his village.�

I kept asking myself during my reading if I was being too harsh, but the reality is that I failed to engage emotionally with any of the characters, I was rarely surprised by the plot and, by the end, I felt as if I was simply filling in the numbers in a hellishly large but low-level Sudoku puzzle.

As ever, just one person�s opinion. You might love it.



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This page contains a single entry by Patrick Cave published on December 12, 2006 8:35 AM.

Alone on a Wide Wide Sea was the previous entry in this blog.

A Boy Wants a Dinosaur is the next entry in this blog.

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