Friday, October 4, 2013

Cast in Sorrow by Michelle Sagara

Title: Cast in Sorrow
Author: Michelle Sagara
Publisher: Harlequin Luna
Rating: worthy

This is the Chronicles of Elantra Series #9. There are brief reviews of the entire series on my Novel Series page.

Normally I don't do covers because I don't care what a cover looks like; I care about the content, and the writer has absolutely no say (and no se) in what crap goes on there unless they self-publish, and even then many of them hire someone else to create the cover, so I have to ask on Sagara's behalf: which idiot writes book blurbs like the one on this back cover: "The end is only the beginning"? Seriously? Is that meant to be deep or something? This is the major advantage of self-publishing - it’s all your own. You get to say how it reads, how the cover looks, what the blurb says, Yours may be just as idiotic, but at least it's your idiocy, and not someone else's! Nuff said!

I can't begin to express how thrilled I was when I saw this one on the library shelf. I snatched it up in a spit second. Unfortunately, I couldn't start on it right away because I had two others to finish. But now I am into it, and it's like coming home. Michelle Sagara is a KICK-ASS writer who knows how to build a completely enthralling world, and she's created a serious contender for Hall-of-Fame All-Star All-Time female hero in Kaylin Neya. I will detail this in detail giving you the detailed details as soon as I've had a nap!

As accomplished and skillful a writer as Sagara is, there's still the odd occasion when she could use some editing! For example, on p335 we get this: "…why would be live as a pet?" which should, I'm assuming, be: "…why would he live as a pet?" Sad to say (and I don't recall this from earlier novels, but maybe those had it too), Sagara is yet another devotee of long moments, and long minutes, and even a long half hour! And the number of times she uses the phrase "like, and unlike" or a variant of it, is really, really annoying!

On the confusing front, I found this piece on p49: "The stairs that fronted it were flat and wide, the columns that held the roof almost the height of the trees that stood to the right and the left of the building." When I first read this, I was confused about what she was saying, and I had to read it again to get it. This interrupted the story for me. Leaving aside the interminable argument about the use of 'that' over 'which', it seemed to me that the sentence ought to read: "The stairs that fronted it were flat and wide, and the columns that held the roof were almost the height of the trees that stood to the right and the left of the building." Maybe the whole sentence should have been re-thought and split, perhaps? Yeah, it's a minor quibble, and it's her novel, not mine, but if writers are wanting to keep readers happy, an iota of extra attention to legibility can go a long way.

Another instance appeared shortly afterwards, on p55, where the first four paragraphs at the start of chapter 4 have a character speaking without offering any indication as to who it is. This is why it's a good idea to read what you've written - both at a later date, and out loud so you can get a feel for how others might perceive it. When you read out loud, you read a little differently than when you read inside your own head. Just a thought!

On p305 Kaylin grabs Teela's hand and pulls it down and then says "What are you doing?", but the speech isn’t included with the paragraph of the yanking o' the hand, so it made it seem like Teela had said it. This was unnecessarily confusing. Sagara needs to learn when to identify the speaker. Again this is something a writer should be able to catch if they put the writing aside for a period of time and then come back to it and read it out loud. This is also an advantage which comes en suite with the "tell the story as fast as you can" style of writing, where you write the whole thing off (so to speak!) in one and the hell with editing, but then go back, once it's finished, and read it through, editing as you go.

On p364, there is a real classic: "Which guttered the little bit better entirely". I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what the heck Sagara means by this. It’s not even English in any meaningful sense! But enough of this nit-picking! Let's move on.

So this story takes off where Cast in Peril left off, kinda half-way through. None of her other volumes (at least as I recall - it's been a while!) are like this: they're complete stories even while still an integral part of the series. Oh, and yes, this is a series where you really need to start on volume one to get everything that follows. The Barrani party with whom Kaylin is traveling to a ceremony in which she is to play an important part, is under attack and threats follow them, but within the first few chapters they arrive safely in the territory known as the West March where the ceremony is to be held. Kaylin will be safe until she tells the tale, but after that, all bets, it appears, are off. This writing is some of Sagara's best in her descriptions of the bizarre things which happen in the forest right before they achieve sanctuary in the Lord of the West March's property. It's fascinating to me, but this novel wasn't all plain sailing.

Having said that, I have to also add that chapters five and six are all but unintelligible in far too many places. I don't recall having this problem with Sagara's previous volumes in this series, but I pretty much read those one after another, since I was quite late coming to this series. This not only made the read pleasurable, since I had virtually no down-time between volumes, it also made it a lot easier on me in keeping track of people and events than it must have been for those people who read one novel, and then had to wait a whole year before they were able to continue the adventure. I think I had a real advantage with this flow, and this is what enabled me to enjoy the novels far better than others who had a much more staccato experience.

I know that other reviewers have expressed complaints about her poor writing - where she has a conversation start up and it's entirely unclear who is saying what and to whom. This goes back to what I said earlier about reading out loud what you wrote, and before you do that, wait a month or so. If you can't quite grasp who is doing or saying what, or why, then you know for a fact your readers won't exactly be on top of it either, and it's your fault if they're not!

Like I said, I don't recall experiencing this difficulty before, but chapters five and six in this novel are a classic examples of this problem - of the same problem I had at the start of chapter four, which I mentioned above. These two chapters also recap (after a fashion) some previous events; the problem is that it's been so long since I read those other volumes that the recaps were useless, since they were so very sparse and mentioned names and actions which I couldn't recall well (or at all!), without giving any context for those names.

In another genre, when one reads a series, the names are much more familiar and the roles those people play, much more ordinary. But I think the writer has a real responsibility to help keep the reader enlightened when taking an excursion into a fantasy world where both names and roles are pure invention and unfamiliar to the reader. Sagara fails dismally at this in these two chapters, but then she picks it up somewhat when Kaylin has to once again heal the Barrani consort - who promptly disappears during an all-out assault on Lord Lirienne's West March central (or is it central march west? - whichever it is, they're almost given their marching orders - west, right, west right, quick march - until Kaylin comes to the rescue), and by them it's almost April....

So all is forgiven because Sagara takes off again after the, ahem, bad chapters and takes it to the next level which is the one right after the mezzanine (if you're south of the border that will be the mexanine), but before you get to the sign which says "Next Level and Then Some", okay? If you reach the sign saying, "She's all that and a bag of chips" then you've gone wa-ay too far at this point. All righty then.

So, despite all the itty-bitty annoyances, Sagara puts together a pretty engrossing tale, full of amazingly imaginative scenes, and curious events, slowly but surely adding this volume to the rest in terms of stories I can say are enjoyable and addictive. I love Kaylin and An'teela, and I love especially how Sagara brings them closer as friends in this story, having each of them open up more to the other than they ever have before - but then she threatens to seriously split them apart. I'm not going to say any more on that score, but it made my skin crawl in considering that she might really do this!

So to conclude, I recommend this!