Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Across the Face of the World - Final Post

I admit that I started the super-thick ACROSS THE FACE OF THE WORLD with a bit of trepidation. I knew it would take me weeks to read. I don't normally mind thick books, but for some reason, since I started Fantasy Debut I now notice how long it takes me to read them, when before I didn't care at all.

But I digress. All my fears were unfounded. I enjoyed ACROSS THE FACE OF THE WORLD very much.

This book is basically about a series of chases across . . . well, the face of the world. Or about half of it. I found it unique in my reading experience mostly for its sense of family. It's about a family, complete with mother, father and two brothers. And they all go on the adventure. The father has a mysterious past as a Trader, a sort of spying merchant who travels the lands and reports back to the king. For reasons unknown, Mahnum, the Trader, gave up his occupation to become a farmer in a remote northern village name Loulea.

After many years, the king has need of him again and sends him on another trading/spying mission. He returns home, chased by four Bhrudwan warriors. The Bhrudwans are a race who lives under the thumb of the Destroyer, or the Undying Man. He's not exactly a Satan figure, because he was once a man. Immortality is both his punishment and curse, and his "reward" for doing something he wasn't supposed to do.

Mahnum manages to lose the Brudhwan warriors on the way home . . . or so he thinks. After experience treachery in various foreign courts on the way home, Mahnum returns home, intending to spirit away his family to safety. However, the Brudhwans were behind him after all, and they abduct both Mahnum and his wife, Indrett.

From that point on, the book is a series of chases, captures and escapes from one end of the continent to the other. They are warned early on that they will experience both "friends and foes unlooked for" and this is true. Just when you think the characters have achieved a major objective, another enemy pops up. Just when you think they are in such deep trouble that you see no way out, some friends happen along to help out. At first, their challenges are rather easily overcome -- almost too easy -- but the author makes up for this toward the end.

This novel was not written for an American audience, and it shows. (It was originally published in Australia.) The point-of-view jumps from character to character, and for many people I know this is a no-no. I actually enjoyed it. An omnipresent point-of-view does have its advantages, and the big one here is that we were able to peek into everyone's heads without a major scene shift. Another thing that might try the patience of some readers is the excessive descriptions of scenery. People are hardly described at all -- in fact, the differences between the races is hardly evident -- but each bend of the road is rendered in loving care, and sometimes, there are even descriptions of things that none of the characters ever see.

However, the novel managed to keep my attention throughout. Toward the end, I detected some problems with pacing. The party had divided into four parts and they all had the same destination. Some were chased and others were not. This resulted in the plot either racing with the thrill of the chase, or sauntering through the countryside. I felt that the novel could have ended a good deal earlier than it did, but I understood that the author wanted to reunite all the characters before closing. The point-of-view shifts got to be a problem at one point when one character suddenly reunited with a group of others, and I was left wondering what he was doing in this scene until I understood what was going on.

The ending pages are breathless with excitement and the book really ends with a bang. In fact, it's almost too much of a bang, because the instant the final conflict is over, the novel is over. Thank goodness Orbit included the first chapter of the next book, In the Earth Abides a Flame, so I could see what happened next. I have an ARC edition, so I'm not sure if the sample chapter ended up in the final edition.

The thing I loved most about this book was the dynamics between all the characters. The parents, Mahnum and Indrett, do not have a perfect marriage. Leadership of the "Company" shifts between the village Haufuth, or headman, and Kurr, an old farmer who is a secret Watcher. (Secret occupations abound!) The brothers, Hal and Leith, have a tangled web of jealousy between. There is a fascinating secret yet to be discovered about Hal, something that I suspect he isn't fully aware of, himself. There is a love triangle that was unexpectedly sundered with the death of one character. The religion in this novel is heavily influenced by Christianity, with a mythology that is derivative of the Garden of Eden.

If you don't mind an occasionally challenging read about a fantasy that is truly epic in scope, then you might enjoy this novel. I'm especially interested in seeing how this author grows from novel to novel. I'm dying to see how things work out between Hal and Leith, so I can't imagine missing the next book in the series.

Russell Kirkpatrick's website and blog
Amazon Links: USA, Canada, UK


CaroleMcDonnell said...

I like family sagas. This sounds fun. -C

Tia Nevitt said...

I do too. There's all sorts of possibilities with family sagas.

Robert said...

Glad you liked the book Tia :) It just wasn't for me...

Tia Nevitt said...

I had not read a travel novel in a very long time, so this novel came at a good time for me. And I loved the whole family dynamic. But I'm just repeating myself at this point!

Raven said...

Family dynamics interest me too, if they're done well. The ones I can't stand are the families where everybody loves everybody else and they never have any problems. That's great in real life. In books it really isn't.

Tia Nevitt said...

They don't squabble constantly in this novel, but there's lots of hidden tension.

Raven said...

Hidden works. Hidden is actually probably better. More subtext, usually more emotional content.

Kimberly Swan said...

Sounds like it turned out to be a pleasant surprise to you. :)