Ramblings from the Desert

The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either. ~Benjamin Franklin

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Location: New Mexico

Author of the urban fantasy novel, The Music of Chaos, and the paranormal romance, The Canvas Thief.

Monday, October 03, 2005

The Charnel Prince

Epic fantasy is boring.

Sometimes? Often? So much of the genre consists of long, lugubrious, multi-novel story arcs populated by over-written prose and description that reads like a travel book.

There's Robert Jordan's never-ending epic of nasty women and the hen-pecked men who can't quite love them. Or Terry Goodkind's "Lookie! I can write torture and S&M sex scenes...huh? Plot, what plot?" series. Let's not forget Donaldson's "If you like Lord of the Rings, you must read" Thomas Covenant series. Sorry, but no. Last I checked, Aragorn wasn't a whining, misogynistic rapist. (There's not enough dope and booze in the world to get me through Donaldson's books.)

But Greg Keyes has managed, along with George R. R. Martin, to get me reading epic fantasy again. The Charnel Prince, second in the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bones series, is fast-paced and often exciting. (Which by the way, is the usual nice rejection I get from John O'Neill over at Black Gate.)

Keyes, an anthropologist, builds a solid world populated with various cultures. He doesn't go the route of many epic fantasy writers and spend page after page detailing every aspect of the world's history and culture. His prose is spare and keeps the story moving. With a few exceptions, the dialogue is strong and believable. (There are a few instances where the characters seem to be talking just to fill paper space.)

Characterization, which for this reader trumps all else, is good. Unlike the aforementioned Jordan, Keyes portrays the interactions between the sexes in a manner that suggests he likes women. (I really think R. Jordan hates women.) Female characters, in particular princess Anne Dare, are strong without suffering from perpetual PMS. (Why is it that, for many writers, "strong woman" means "nasty to everyone within a one-mile blast radius"?)

The overall storyline has at least a few antagonists, which may or may not be connected. The Briar King, a kind of extreme Green Man, has awakened and is taking back his forest. In his wake, follow mythical monsters and entire villages are disappearing or falling to a strange madness. (Makes people run around nekkid.) Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Crotheny starts to crumble as a big chunk of the monarchy is assassinated. Throw in some added intrigue from a corrupt church and you've got a rather good yarn.

This installment fails in that unlike George R. R. Martin, Keyes seems to have grown a little too fond of his characters and there's no "kill your darlings." Of course, it's rather sad that a novel is judged by its bodycount (or lack thereof). But dead folks equals angst and tension.

'Course, I'd recommend going back and reading book one, The Briar King first. But for those who are usually leary of epic fantasy and all its baggage, this series is a nice escape into epic without the history lesson.


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