Limyaael

[info]limyaael @ 10:06 pm: My thoughts on Acacia, let me show them to you.
Beware, as this post has mild spoilers for Acacia by David Anthony Durham.

Alas, I think I am giving up on Acacia. It's not a bad book, and it has a multiracial world and at least one seriously cool religious concept that I'm impressed with. But I think I've just grown too disenchanted with epic fantasy to have the kind of patience a book like this demands- especially when I don't particularly like any of the characters, and not enough time is spent in their viewpoints to interest me in them. Also, Thirteen has caught my attention to the point where it's hard to want to read anything else right now.



1) I want the world to be lived and expressed through the characters. The characters should seem like natural products of the environment- or, if there are deviations, they're explained somehow- and the environment should show itself to be influenced by their actions, even if only in small ways. Infodumping? Not the way to accomplish this. Acacia sheds the infodumping after the first few chapters, but unfortunately it retains a viewpoint problem. This book is a great example of why the omniscient voice so rarely works for me. Without a personality to that voice, it cuts the world apart from the characters. I can be told anything about the world, and that anything is the truth. Great, but how does that world influence the characters, then? I usually don't know. Don't give me a lecture about the sociological levels of your created world. Instead, show me a character musing on that, through his or her own biased perspective, which expresses the character's personality, conceals surprises where you want them concealed, and shows how this character regards them.

2) I just can't take most of the central concepts seriously anymore. I have a hard time reading about royalty and investing it with as much dignity as the author wants me to put in. Likewise, I roll my eyes at absolutely evil enemies. (Acacia has these, to the detriment of the story). I think destiny is completely silly at best, sadistic at worst. Why should thousands of people have to suffer just so that something can happen at the "right" time? What makes the savior so much more special than other people? I'm interested in prophecies only if the author essentially turns them inside out. And don't get me started about teenagers who basically become rulers because they're too bullheaded to die and have magic that no one else wields. Not good traits for a politician, okay? And a lot of epic fantasies want to have it both ways: the monarch is a political ruler, and yet isn't a politician, never having to make those nasty compromises or deal head-on with the court machinations that tarnish the souls of other characters. Give me a series where the non-political monarchs mess up their countries, and we'll talk.

3) The worlds seem so potted. There's a certain sequence the gods follow in creating the world. (At least Acacia breaks the mold a bit here, with the gods being intimately related to the magic). There's one major event in the past that's the cause of just about all evil. (Acacia, unfortunately, did not escape this trap). There are a few heroic monarchs hanging about in the historical background, never enough to make that history feel populated. People's qualities and allegiances are largely determined by group affiliation, sometimes country and sometimes racial heritage and sometimes magical affiliation. (Acacia does that, too). There is a distinct lack of variation in culture, with the exception of clothing- no art, no literature, no complex patterns of civilization, none of the myriad ways that people come to inhabit their mental and physical worlds and conjoin them together. In the worst cases, everyone speaks the same language all across vast continents, denying even that marker of difference. There is not enough variation. Fantasy worlds need a lot more cultural diversity than they receive.

4) Too much not-happening. The things that do happen are almost always battles, daring escapes, and so on- high on the drama. Then the buildup for further dramatic events strands the authors in the middle of mired plots going nowhere fast. There is little genuine intelligent conversation, almost no domestic time, few relationships that aren't forged on the run or disrupted violently by betrayal or death. Once again, it feels like a setpiece for a certain story, not a genuinely inhabited world that is always existing on and around and with the characters.

5) The world is not adult enough. No, I don't mean the amount of gore or sex. I mean that a great many characters are emotionally immature (you can see this most often in the romances, but also in the melodramatic friendships and the way that characters will change at the drop of a hat). Relationships are not complicated enough; people can be ripped apart and decide to disregard years of affection based on a single revelation about destiny, prophecy, or royalty. And those dramatic events the author spends so much time building into the story? Often, they depend on ignoring certain practical realities. I think it's a lot more fun to show what you can do with small things and cleverness that figures out obstacles and overcomes them, instead of pretending that everyone will be stupid at just the right moment. And if you plunge the characters into a painful situation, show the nuances of that pain, instead of pretending that they can heal instantly or that everything will change because someone else conveniently dies or turns out to be evil.



It's odd, because I do still love secondary-world fantasy more than urban fantasy. But I think I've been lucky enough to find authors who are doing something a bit different with the concepts I like, and I've also changed my reading patterns to include a lot more science fiction lately, so I'm not noticing the real lack a dose of tolerable epic fantasy once would have left in my world.

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