Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Review: Salamander

Salamander by David D. Friedman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A brilliant young woman works with her mentor, a clever but unworldly theoritician of magic, to foil dynastic plots and ensure that a powerful new way of doing magic doesn't fall into the wrong hands.

Overall, I enjoyed this. I'm a fan of the growing "magic school" subgenre, I like clever protagonists, and the writing was reasonably competent.

I say "reasonably" competent because, while the author mostly knows where to put his commas, he occasionally gets apostrophes wrong with plural nouns ("magister's wing" when there's more than one magister, for example). He's also sloppy with his quotation marks. These are minor issues, though, given that I didn't notice any homonym errors, the bane of indie (and, increasingly, traditionally-published) books.

What I didn't like was the infodumping of theory of magic, literally in the form of lectures (both from faculty at the magic school and also from the clever young woman to her friends at lunchtime). Infodumps are dull at the best of times, and this particular author uses a dry dialogue style without contractions - which also leaves most of his characters sounding the same. Also, the first three chapters consist largely of these infodumps (at least, that's how it felt), and there were one or two more later in the book.

It's true that much of the content was relevant to the resolution of the plot later on, but there are better ways of presenting this background information than in big lecturing chunks.

I mentioned that the characters mostly sound similar (though one of them, a farmer's son, does drop words out of his sentences, which makes him distinctive). At least one of them, Edwin, also turns up without introduction or description and never seems to do much. The remainder, though, are distinct in their personalities and I found it easy to keep them straight in my head.

I picked this book up because the author talked about it in a comment on someone else's blog and it sounded interesting (yes, that does occasionally work, authors). It was good enough that I'd read another in what I assume will be a series, though I'm really hoping for less infodumping next time.

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