Thursday, February 22, 2018

Not as Good as the First: The Age of Swords

This is the second time in recent memory that I've thoroughly enjoyed the start of a fantasy series, only to be let down by the second book. Aren't later books supposed to be better, because they have a little less establishing work to do?

The Age of Myth was somewhat safe and tropish fantasy, but I liked the spin of the Fhrey being discredited as gods, and how the consequences of that discovery develop. Its sequel, Age of Swords, starts off strong with the Fhrey (the elven class) punishing the Runic dulls (the human class) for killing a couple of their own. It frightens Persephone into action, stirring all of the Runic tribes to unite and elect a single leader to confront the Fhrey. They have varying degrees of help from marginalized Fhreys and Dirgs (dwarven class), and this volume consists entirely of Persephone's struggle to get everyone on-board with going to war against the Fhrey before the Fhrey annihilate them. But it's an uphill climb. First, she must get all the chieftains to agree to meet. Then they have to agree to have a Koenig (a solitary leader). When all fingers point to Raithe, the only survivor of clan Direa, and he refuses because they don't have the manpower or the weapons, Persephone takes her merry band of Ren females off to Dirg-land to get metal swords. She becomes a stronger character than she was in the first book, if that's possible, and her coterie grows as well-particularly Moya, the warrioress-in-training.

Of course I'm summarizing and leaving out parts, but that's the main thrust of the tale. And yet, Age of Swords felt remarkably slow and drawn-out. Each step in Persephone's quest got stretched into more and more sub-steps, and it kept her separated from Dull Tyre, the scene of the action, for an inordinate amount of time. Raithe's stubborness is still tropish (he's not the first or the last reluctant hero), but it didn't grow him appreciably as a character, and in fact he had little to do with this book, which is a surprise, given how integral he was to the previous installment.  Other characters-I think of Arion in particular-felt like tag-alongs, hold-outs from the first book whose part in the story felt forced and arbitrary, rather than organic. For a good chunk of it she is metaphorically (if not physically) absent, so it really did beg the question as to why she was there at all. And I could do entirely without the catastrophic escapades of the Fhrey prince.

The biggest problem I had with this book was the dialogue-it dragged in multiple places, and people who I found witty and funny the first time around struck me as redundant and overly wordy here. The most egregious parts were, sadly, related to some of the things I found most interesting. I like that, despite the generally typical feel of this fantasy, that it is set in the beginning of the Iron Age, or its approximation, rather than something akin to the Middle Ages. But the constant and exhausting descriptions of the world's firsts-paper, arrows, chain-mail, they turned something intriguing into something boring and repetitive. Every exchange felt like a series of monologues spliced together. The length of some people speaking to each other-again, Arion is an offender-just defied nature. No  one would listen to a lecture as long as hers on the benefit of using the art, especially a disinterested, flighty, short-minded, teenage girl.

And without giving anything away, its ending was painfully similar to the first. The eye-brow raising comments between Nephron and Malcolm piqued by curiosity in the first book, but this time around just felt like more of the same-a cheap trick.

I still want to know what happens, but I'd like to see tighter writing focused on the main plot, rather than a story fattened up by adventures that, even in terms of character growth, will ultimately not matter.

**Please excuse any misspellings of character names and places in this post-this was an audio book**

K Rating: 3/5

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