An interesting fantasy structure for this one, and the characters and prose seemed okay, but it never really caught my interest. Perhaps I've fallen out with Kress' writing, this one felt overly distant to me and I read it more from obligation than enjoyment. There was an odd element of by the numbers routine stretched across the whole narrative, despite the unusual elements, a sense that the author was or didn’t care if the reader became bored.
It’s not a problem with plot, the way with a number of recent books I’ve fallen afoul of. I can believe in the sequence of events that drives the story, it may not be the most innovative of things but it works on its own terms and drives along with pace differently. Rather the issue was characterization, not that it was undone but that it applied into overly broad and stock archetypes for the main cast, at times venturing into cliches. I have no firm and consistent rule for when good characterization is essential for a story. In principle one can maintain that all stories would benefit from well-formed personalities at the core to ddraw out main interest. In implementation some stories can get by fine without having great chracterization, particularly speculative fiction that prioritizes movement through and display of an invented environment to a large extent. Yet with this novel, something about the style seems to invite a deep identifcation with the protagonist and allies that isn’t delivered in the book, a perpetual gap at the core of the narrative that became frustrating.
Of all the books picked up on my own volition, and not in pursuit of particular academic or historical appraisal, this novel is one I came closest to putting down and walking away from early on. I kept going less from enjoyment of the quality then from a mingled sense to round out my reading of Kress, and a determination to continue because I’d read trashier fantasy novels. Looking at it now I find that approach a bit suspect, and while Kress has done good work at other points in her career I am going to be a lot more hesitant with her in the future.
Worse than: Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
Better than: Funeral for the Eyes of Fire by Michael Bishop