An impromptu book review

8 05 2012

A review of Tetrarch: Volume Tow of The Well of Echoes by Ian Irvine

I finished this book and instantly felt the need to tell the world about it; not necessarily because it’s a brilliant book, nor because it’s awful. (In fact it may well have something to do with my Kindle asking me to Tweet about it when I finished) However it’s very interesting and I really just feel like writing a review.

So here goes. The Well of Echoes Volume Two: Tetrarch.  I’ll start by saying that I almost didn’t read this book after reading the first installment of the series (Geomancer). I found Geomancer very hit and miss and didn’t really have any want to read this second part on it’s conclusion. That said, I’m glad I did and, having finished reading part two, I am keen to get onto the next installment (Scrutator(Or Alchymist if you are, like me, in the UK)) to find out what happens next. The difference in my feelings at the conclusion of each book can be put down to one thing and it’s something that makes the books both engaging and dull all at the same time; they are very heavily reliant on the characters involved in the sequences.

In explanation; Tetrarch follows a number of different characters to an number of different places around the fictional world of Santhenar, each character(or group of characeters) with their own mission/reason/direction or whatnot. Some of these characters are intensely interesting and are a joy to follow (Ullii in particular was a favorite of mine and chapters focusing on her seemed to fly by) whilst others (Tiaan (who, unfortunately is our main protagonist throughout the first third of the book (and most of Geomancer))) are dull and uninteresting and sometimes the chapters focusing on them are a chore to read. This makes the pace of the book and the level of interest fluctuate wildly throughout the reading and it can really suffer from being too character dependent.

Character dependencies and multiple narrative strains are not something uncommon to fantasy novels such as this but where others often make the section featuring characters you may not connect with or care for interesting through the narrative sequences themselves Irvine seems to struggle. Making some sections of the book rather laborious to get through. He also suffers when the writing is not character-centric. For example, when describing locations or events, they don’t feel interesting, gripping or, sometimes, even important and several times I found myself having to re-read the description of an object or place because I had simply not taken anything in. To his credit these descriptions of places and things are usually pretty short (about a paragraph) and don’t last long so he seems aware that this is a shortcoming of his personal writing style. The problem is that it leaves everything so focused on characters that you are very reliant on your interest in who is being followed at the time.

This said, Irvine does an absolutely fantastic job creating an interesting and engrossing mythos surrounding the characters, worlds and species involved in the plot. I find myself wanting to know more about how the magical power (on which the story revolves) of the world(s) works, how each species uses it, how it affects the individuals involved and a host of other questions about the world and it’s workings which are vastly different from our own. The magic itself is not only used in the traditional wizardry way (where individuals can cast spells and the like) but also replaces such things as electricity or steam power used to run machines. To paraphrase Thor, it is magic and technology but also one and the same. The way this force (or field as it is called) is used is the primary focus of the book and sees three species fighting over it whilst also using it. It’s a story of technology and magic and nature and war all at once and it encompasses so many different elements in a way that is unique and engrossing. You also have a number of different species whose histories begin to trickle into the story as you read through. We, of course, follow a selection of human characters who in turn meet a number of characters from the other two species involved in the book and through them we learn more about the opposing army (the Lyrinx) from the void (effectively aliens from space) and the Aachim from another world. In this way not only do we learn about the nature of the world itself but also the histories and sensibilities of a number of unique species to form an expansive and remarkably complex mythos to surround our individual characters. It is this mythos that has made me want to read the next part of the series.

As this is a review I feel I should give Tetrarch a summary and some sort of score. I don’t really want to start giving marks so I’ll simply give you a sort or 5 tier structure of “Pretty bad”, “Not great”, “Fair to middling”, “Quite good” and “Brilliant” to gauge what I thought of it. So here goes, my first book review:

Tetrarch is a book flawed by it’s dependency individual characters and how much you relate to each of them but one that builds on part of an interesting, expansive, deep and remarkably complex mythos that will have you absorbed into a world quite different from our own. Going from a slow beginning which was laborious to get through then gaining pace and becoming more interesting and finishing with an exciting conclusion which has made me want to continue the series on to the next book.

Overall: “Fair to middling”Starts slow, gets better.

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