Sunday, 14 April 2013

Review: All the Paths of Shadow

All the Paths of Shadow
All the Paths of Shadow by Frank Tuttle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this very much, despite some flaws. In particular, I enjoyed seeing a truly competent female protagonist and characters who trusted each other.

There are a few editing issues, but only a few. Breech instead of breach, Bellringer's instead of Bellringers', passed instead of past, boogie instead of bogey, sherbert as a misspelling of sherbet, whickers instead of whiskers, millenia used as the singular, and belied used to mean betrayed were the ones I caught, plus a couple of cases where a space was missing between two words. These are minor, and some are simply typos. I did notice that the open and closed quotation marks aren't always correct, which makes the occasional missed dialogue tag even more confusing, but in general, the language is smooth and even, and there are some lovely expressions and phrasings in the dialogue. Four stars for language.

The characters delighted me, especially, as I've mentioned, the intelligent, competent young female protagonist, who didn't need to be rescued by a man even once. She was firmly in control of the situation most of the time, and even when she wasn't, she managed to fake it so convincingly that her opponents backed down. The crusty old wizards were also a lot of fun, as was the wisecracking plant-familiar with the 29 eyes.

I liked the fact that people trusted each other. So often a story relies on people not trusting each other when they obviously should.

The character I did have a problem with was the king. When he's offstage, he's generally an annoying idiot, but when he's onstage he seems like a sensible and pleasant man. I couldn't reconcile what I was told about him with what I was shown about him. This means only four stars for characters.

The plot ran smoothly enough, with plenty of challenges for the protagonist to overcome. The trouble here was that she generally overcame them with magic that didn't follow Sanderson's First Law, which I paraphrase as follows: if solving a problem with magic is to be fully satisfying to the reader, the reader needs to understand the magic in advance of when it's used to solve the problem, so that it doesn't come across as a deus ex machina. This means only four stars for plot.

Which brings me to the setting. The collection of wondrous magical devices was entertaining, but it did play out in plot terms a bit like Batman's utility belt, as I've just mentioned. Any problem could be solved either by one of the devices or by the protagonist's enormous magical ability. In a poorly written book, this would have been fatal, but here it wasn't, it just reduced the cleverness of the solutions we were shown by replacing it with cleverness we were told about.

The other, more important problem with the setting was that the cultures were mostly simply lifted whole from Earth cultures, without even the serial numbers filed off. The Hang are Chinese with chopsticks and spring rolls, one of the allied nations is Scottish with kilts and tartans, another one seems to be Irish with alcoholism, blarney and peat. I like to see authors work harder at worldbuilding than this. A related problem is that the Realms in which the story is set have a sophisticated steampunk-style (that is, 19th-century-European) civilization, while we're told at one and the same time that they are on a relatively tiny, very isolated landmass that's out of touch with the rest of the world. Those two things don't go together. Three stars for setting, barely rescued from two by the delightful gadgets.

In summary, then, what I was told and what I was shown didn't always match up, but I'm giving it four stars overall anyway because it contained so many things I enjoy: a genuinely strong female protagonist, fun gadgets, good dialogue and steampunk that isn't over-the-top.

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