Monday, 9 December 2013

Review: As the Crow Flies

As the Crow Flies
As the Crow Flies by Robin Lythgoe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I do love a good rogue, and this book offers one. Though let down a little by editing issues and a lot by the female characters, overall it was enjoyable and well-written if I overlooked those factors.

Editing issues first. It's written in a literate, intelligent style, which makes the problems that much more vexing. There are only a few, but they are pervasive.

Firstly, apostrophe placement in phrases like "servants' entrance" and "merchants' quarter". I've just given the correct placements (since the entrance is used by more than one servant, and there is more than one merchant in the quarter), but the author writes "servant's entrance" and "merchant's quarter". Other examples: bandit's horses, peoples' stomachs (an overcorrection; "people" is what the stomachs belonged to, so it should be "people's"), guard's sashes, brother's knives, owner's food stocks, Ancestor's magic, visitor's menials, neighbor's houses. In all those cases, the noun was plural and so the apostrophe should be after the s. The apostrophe is also missed out of "four months' travel" (you wouldn't say "one month travel" but "one month's travel").

Then there's the almost completely consistent use of "affect" where it should be "effect" (both the verb and noun versions). There's also "poured" for "pored" in one place. "Laying" for "lying" may just be part of the voice of the first-person narrator, though I suspect it's another error by the author.

A number of sentences also change grammatical direction or tense partway through, there are missing minor words like "of" occasionally, and there are several dangling participles ("A professional dancer, I had first set eyes on Tarsha..." - where Tarsha, not the speaker, is the dancer).

It's not like there's an error on every page. I marked about 40 (some of them the same ones repeated), and this is a long book. With very rare exceptions, commas are in the right place, too. But there are enough errors that I found them annoying and distracting from the story.

The story itself is a classic piece of sword-and-sorcery, in which a rogue, accompanied reluctantly by a fighter, goes on a quest to steal an object desired by a wizard. There's the old "I've poisoned you and you have to come back to me for the antidote" trope. The hero collects an accidental, troubling, but highly useful superpower seemingly at random in the course of the adventure.

Does it rise above the tropes? It does, though not all that high at times, and there are a couple of tropes that troubled me more, the ones around the female characters. We have three: The selfish and mercenary seducer/whore/betrayer; the Woman in a Refrigerator, who exists only as a male character's motivation; and the mute (the male protagonist observes that at least she doesn't chatter like other women) who is always crying, devoted to the protagonist for no obvious reason, and annoyingly dependent, though she is surprisingly, and indeed unexplainedly, competent with a crossbow at a couple of moments when that's useful. I'm aware that the author is herself a woman, but these are not promising female characters, to me. In fact, they're a worry. This lost an otherwise enjoyable book its fourth star from me.

The protagonist/narrator is a rogue, and so we expect him not to necessarily be a nice guy (though he tries not to kill people if he can help it). His desire not to become emotionally entangled is understandable, and he protests too much of not caring, so we suspect that he cares more than he lets on... though sometimes it does actually seem like he doesn't care, that the act isn't an act, and at those moments he isn't a very likeable character and I, in turn, don't care quite as much what happens to him.

What does happen to him involves a lot of pain and suffering, as is, again, usual for this type of character in this type of book. When that happens to Locke Lamora, or even Eli Monpress, it means something. Here, it's just another trope.

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