Most helpful critical review
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Hurry Up and Wait
on April 11, 2015
TL; DR version: While the writing is superb (aside from some minor editorial mistakes), and the universe that McPhail created is fascinating in many ways, the plot itself is full of tedious repetition mixed with moments of chaotic confusion that are all solved with Deus Ex Machina. The plot is predictable despite there being no clear "villain," but arduously drawn out nevertheless.
While I won't go into detail to avoid spoilers, I found that, as with her first book, the plot was telegraphed from miles away, but took ages to get there. Further, the plot was incredibly repetitive. Somebody gets captured (for the second or third time), somebody else comes in and rescues them with a god's assistance. Rinse and Repeat, ad nauseam. The Deus Ex Machina aspect is even more powerful in this book than the first one. A god steps in here. A person happens to have the exact thing they need at the exact time they need it. The book depicted the "good guys" as having planned everything out already, but the "bad guys" seem to always be in the lucky place at the lucky time to really screw up the plan. Except then you find out that, oh wait, that's what the MAIN good guy (the Fifth Vestal, that is), was expecting to teach the necessary lesson. And he couldn't tell anyone about it because... reasons. In most cases the confusing explanation of the all-important "Balance" is given. Even the characters comment on how "convenient" this explanation is. It certainly feels like the author railroads the plot to where she wants it, and to explain that, she just says, "Oh it's because of Balance," and expects us to accept that.
As with the idea of Balance, the whole plot is full of platitudes and heavy-handed philosophy, that's as confusing to the reader as it is to many of the characters. Most of this is in relation to this universe's concept of magic, called "Patterning." Patterning is an interesting concept and, in general, one of the things I found interesting about the world. But, as with the plot and the Balance, it seems to be repetition where a character does the same thing over and over and over again, failing, but then succeeding when it's convenient to move the plot along, but it's never clear what happened that's different. Another philosophy that seems to come up a lot is this feeling of the "wonder of innocence," and "naivete" in the face of extreme evil, and then CHANGING the evil so you realize, maybe the bad guy's not so evil after all, and is really just naive in their own way.
There are a lot of "god-like" characters, who seem to know everything and have planned for everything, etc. They're reported to be "as close a touch to divinity as I've seen," but we're mostly TOLD these things, and never SHOWN why this is true. We're just kind of supposed to accept it. Further, we're told how EVIL the bad guys are, and often see them doing quite a lot of evil, but then they "make up for it" but being nice to a small boy, or granting some small favor. Again, though, we're TOLD how various characters are "drawn" to the bad guys, and want to like them despite knowing their evil nature, but this is never convincingly shown. The reader never really sees how the character could be so drawn, we never SEE the charming side of evil, we're only told that it's charming.
While I'm mentioning the villain, it's really unclear WHO the villain is. We're told that the good guys have been planning something for at least 300 years, and we get the impression that this is all some slow build up to a final confrontation, but it's not clear what that confrontation IS. At the end of the first book, we're led to believe it's the Malorin'athgul, but during the course of this book (And here there might be a small spoiler), the author seems to try to show us that they're really just misunderstood, and are not really intentionally "killing" the world: a) their simple existence in this universe is slowly killing it, and b) the actions that they DO take towards killing the world come from either a dark compulsion of "their nature" or a misguided philosophy that "the purpose of life is to die."
Meanwhile, the "human" bad guys that are introduced are much more menacing and evil than the Malorin'athgul, if not as powerful. It also seems like we're constantly being introduced to a new human villain who is more evil/corrupted than the last, and is unfailingly one of the "50 Companions." And while I'm on the 50 Companions, the way people in this book react to "immortals" is highly confusing. Some times they're in awe of them and treat them like minor deities themselves, other times they react in the same way you or I might react towards movie stars or political celebrities, but the most confusing is when they just order them around or treat them like any other vassal. And even MORE confusing is that the immortal person LETS them. Like, here's a guy that is literally older than your entire kingdom, and you're just gonna' ignore him or order him around or something? It's very odd. But there's a lot of the "politics" of the universe that, as with much else, you're just expected to accept because the author told you that's the way it is.
I know this series has been compared often to the Wheel of Time series. To make the same comparison myself, I would say that it feels like McPhail is trying to capture the same sense of epic, world-sweeping plot that Jordan had, and while she captures some of the urgency there, her plot is even less-clear and more repetitive than Jordan's. While, her plot is in some ways more confusing than Jordan's, in other ways it's telegraphed far, far more in advance than ever Jordan did, and perhaps because of this, it feels arduously drawn out.
Despite all of this, her style of writing is superb. There were a thousand analogies or metaphors that I thought were perfect. She is very able to describe her character's feelings and give them depth (well, mostly). Nevertheless, I don't feel that her style is enough for me to get over the often boring and predictable plot, so I doubt I will buy the third book or continue in the series, but I could understand if you do.