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It's all too easy
on March 17, 2011
I've never read Moon before, so I came at this book without the background of the earlier Paks series.
The book kept me interested enough to read it, which is why it gets 3 stars. But truly, I kept wanting this book to be better, to be more mysterious, to present more *conflict* and tension about what was going to happen to the characters, but that just never developed. To be honest, the book felt a little "workmanlike", as if the author had to put out another book and went through the motions of producing fantasy, but was a little tapped out in terms of truly interesting plot. To her credit, what she does, she does relatively well; but I'm curious as to whether her earlier books showed more passion and fire.
Most of you have probably read plenty of Moon before, so the following is probably old hat: Moon presents a distinctly military approach to writing. She is listed in the book as an "ex marine", and she clearly seems to relish drawing on that background, taking great pains to lay out command and control structures, the life of someone in the military (adjusted to a fantasy setting of course), etc. That's fine: you have to write what you know. I don't find it particularly compelling myself, but I do at least appreciate the fact that here we are dealing with someone who knows what they are talking about. So many fantasy authors romanticize and fantasize warfare and armies without having any concept of the reality behind them.
Where the book falls down for me is that everything is just *too easy* for the main characters, particularly Dorrin. I think the most glaring example of this is that this woman, who has never known anything about magic and who has followed a religion that bans magic, is basically handed super magic powers with nothing more than a page or two of discussion about how they were "awakened" and then trained. From that point on, she is a virtual wrecking ball of magic, effortlessly outdueling entire legions of magic users, magic users who had gained their abilities from hideous human sacrifice rituals. What did Dorrin do? It's like the author needed to find a way to make Dorrin safe from her magic enemies, could think of nothing else, and just decided "hey, she is just a natural magician". Dorrin does not need to learn to control her very powerful magic, there is no cost to her in using it, she does not need to take time to cast spells but instead it just instantly jumps to her use. What fun is that? Go read, say, Stephen Donaldson's White Gold Wielder for an example of the kind of strain and sacrifice a protagonist must endure to have any access to their magic power.
You know what this is like? It's like playing a first-person shooter with the "invulnerable" cheat codes on. Sure, when you're 12 you think it's fun to be able to go through the world infinitely powerful and invulnerable, but it quickly loses its charm because there's no *drama*.
And that's what this book lacked for me: drama. I never felt like there were any real conflicts (the notable exception being the demonic possession of the sargeant in the southern story). Time after time, the protagonists wanted to do something and immediately proceeded to do so. The southern captain wanted to defeat brigands, and everything he did just worked. He was able to manipulate bankers, he was able to outwit bandits and win battles, all seemingly too easy. The protagonists all feel like they have "cheat codes" on.