Fantasy writers don’t always get the respect they deserve.
While other authors have to think about research, and plotting, and characterisation – not to mention the little business of actually writing their magnus opus – the fantasy guys also have to create a whole new universe, complete with rules and regulations and customs and a back-story to match.
A massive undertaking, requiring ingenuity and enormous attention to detail.
So hats off to JC Norman, author of the third novel in the Sphere’s Divide saga, Tragedies of Emotion, for imagining a fantastical, complex dystopian society where humans fight to survive alongside highly-evolved intelligent descendants of bears and tigers and other creatures.
Briefly, as the series title suggests, the world is in turmoil.
Elementalist Arcalie and her human guardian Val have been separated, and while Arcalie is stretched to her limits as she struggles to control her growing power over the elements, Val barely survives the torture he suffers in the aptly named Bastard Camp.
He’s freed after a daring rescue, by Arcalie, helped by the mute aeomon, Dude, a monkey-like creature, and their fight to oust Arcalie’s immortal enemy, Lord Zane as leader of the Elementals continues.
But, as thing spiral ever more crazily, Arcalie finds herself on a dark and dangerous path that may lead to her own destruction and that of everyone and everything she has fought so hard to protect.
If only it was so simple…
The plot is infernally complicated – with echoes of The Northern Lights and The Hunger Games as well as a dash of Harry Potter magic.
No doubt a fantasy feast for some readers.
But too much of a full-blown smorgasbord for my taste.
And, though familiarity with Sphere’s Divide I and II might have helped, more than a quarter of a way into book three I still hadn’t properly grasped who-was-who and what was going on.
Of course, it’s always difficult when a new reader joins a series part way though.
But it’s up to the writer to offer easily-digestible recaps at relevant points in the story.
Or provide a glossary of characters and fantastical creatures.
Or an opening prologue-cum-synopsis bringing new readers up-to-date with the story-so-far.
Just DON’T leave the newbies floundering.
On the plus side, there are some nice turns of phrase – favourites include ‘the malice of truth’ and ‘a pounce of cats’.
But such gems don’t compensate for some very clunky writing.
Tighter editing could have cut the book by at least a third and made it a much more rewarding read.
But JC Norman has energy and imagination and, with a little more writing polish, should go far.
Review by Sue Featherstone.