Friday, February 28, 2014

Good Night to The Red Knight

I hate to give up on a book.

It means I've wasted time reading a few chapters or however many pages of something that wasn't interesting, entertaining or educational, when I could have been reading something else.

It means I've wasted money that could have been spent on something else.

It means that because I haven't finished it, I can't even add it to my What the bookworm just ate list.

And - sometimes, anyway - it leaves me with the nagging worry that if I'd persevered just a little longer, I would have got to the part in the story that would make it all worth while.

Only sometimes, though. Usually, it's pretty clear after a couple of chapters whether there's any hope for the thing, and, if a book hasn't been able to engage me by then, it's unlikely it ever will, and regret fizzles pretty quickly.

Miles Cameron's The Red Knight - Book 1 of the Traitor Son Cycle is just such a book.

On the surface, it had elements that should have worked: knights and mercenaries, deaths at the hands (or claws) of nasty critters, a land on the edge of a threatening magical wilderness, and dragons - my favourite mythical creature of all! - or, at least, their stunted cousins the wyverns. And it's written by a Canadian, and I like to support local authors when I can.

Unfortunately, The Red Knight was just too boring for me to be bothered finishing. After two chapters and 50-odd pages, nothing really happens except lengthy descriptions of clothing and armor, and a whole catalogue of characters exchanging typical and utterly forgettable dialogue. Sure, there's a brief bit about a bear-baiting session that goes wrong, and a subsequent tussle with the beast, but that's about it.

Even the opening scene, with the titular Red Knight's cursory investigation into a slaughter at a farm, is detached to the point of being offhand and blase. Sure, we're dealing with a character who's a sellsword with no real emotional involvement in what's happened to the victims, but if the author can't imbue the description of a killing ground with palpable menace and horror, then something's wrong. Ultimately, it's a scene where nothing much happens except mercenaries kind of looking around at stuff. But there's a huge difference between just looking and thinking about something that happened a while ago, and actually showing us the action as it happens. This rather passive passage is really not a great way to set the pace of a novel, much less an entire series.

This especially bodes ill when you consider the sheer size of this monster door-stopper of a book. If it can't engage the reader in the opening scene - a setting of violence - how can it possibly sustain interest throughout the rest of its bloated length (or its sequels). Consider other long books that launched heavy-weight series: the prologue of George RR Martin's A Game of Thrones kicks off immediately with urgency and a sense of men being hunted - even though they're only sitting around a campfire - as one of the rangers from the Night's Watch tries to get the rest of his band to abandon the wilderness for their fort - a prologue that ends with the rangers ambushed and fighting a losing battle against the White Walkers and their undead soldiers. Then there's the prologue to Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World: Lews Therin, having just killed everyone around him, blows the shit out of the top of the Dragonmount. Action. Big stakes. Characters who you're immediately drawn to. Stuff actually happening that compels the reader to keep reading. The Red Knight? Not so much.

So, The Red Knight will be chucked in my "to donate" box, unfinished and, ultimately, unremembered. Pity.

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