Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Erickson and Clarke

I just finished reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I enjoyed the story but absolutely hated the style. I despise third-person omniscient narrators (where the narrator is a character and can also peer inside the thoughts of any other character at any time). It came close to derailing the book for me in a couple of spots. There's a whimsical, almost young-adult narration style to the book that sometimes is at odds with what's going on, especially toward the end as the events become more serious and take on a more mythic tone. I understand why she made the choice she did -- the novel is set in the early 1800s, and third-person omniscient was a style very much in use back then -- but I don't have to like it. I think Neal Stephenson did a fabulous job of writing about the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries in his Baroque Cycle of novels. He used an ironic tone throughout, but it fit the story and characters and could be both laugh-out-loud funny and deadly serious without ever seeming out of place.

I'm also embroiled in Steven Erickson's Malazan Empire novels. I really didn't care for the first one, Gardens of the Moon, and almost skipped the second one, Deadhouse Gates. I'm glad I didn't. It was leaps and bounds better than the first. I still have problems with Erickson. He creates way too many races that serve no real purpose and aren't differentiated from each other in any way. Can someone please tell me exactly what a Trell is? "Pastoral nomadic warrior society," which is in the glossary, doesn't cut it. But those are minor quibbles. Anyone who can write something as powerful as the "Chain of Dogs" segment of Deadhouse Gates deserves a round of applause. If you like extremely complicated, grim epic fantasy, check out Erikson. Skim Gardens of the Moon because it's necessary for character introductions and plot points, but sink your teeth into the rest. I picked up the third and fourth books in UK paperback editions since they won't be available here in the US for some time yet, and I wasn't willing to wait. So I guess that gives you an idea of how much I like him, despite my quibbles.

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