Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Book Review: The Vision by C. L. Talmadge

Gasping, my hands at my throat, I snap upright in my bunk. For a while all I do is breathe, in and out, over and over, relieved to be taking in air. The nightmare again. Tears slide down my cheeks. I fumble for the light-stick and flick it on. The privilege of a private cabin cannot cheer me. It is a cell, jammed with a sleeping berth, a tiny desk, and one hard chair. My home for the time being is packed with things that are now useless, like the dead link on a tabletop close to my head. There is nothing to link to anymore; no one is at the other end or anywhere else, for that matter. The light-sticks may still work, yet they cannot be replaced. The secret to their fabrication died out in ages past. Will we who survive become as forgotten as the thoughtsmiths who forged these devices long ago? I cannot stand even the thought of that prospect. I cannot bear it if those who come after this nightmare truly ends do not recall who and what preceded them. If they do not understand where and how we went wrong, they will repeat our fate, just as we now suffer the downfall our ancestors might have endured had it not been for Kronos the Deliverer. I surrender to despair, crumble into sobs. Damn you, Kronos! You did us no favor. You should have left the Toltecs to die. There was a good reason they were being hunted to extinction. --Excerpt from The Vision by C. L. Talmadge The Vision is the first book of the Green Stone of Healing Series. A slim volume at 224 pages (including a glossary), The Vision sets up a volatile political climate that will undoubtedly become the centerpiece of the next two books, with lords and other nobles vying for power, and subsequently doing whatever it takes to acquire it. It also establishes the world of Azgard, a semi-futuristic, mostly fantasy place where people called the Toltecs have conquered the another people--the Turanians--and then banned all interbreeding, especially amongst the nobles. Without giving too much away, The Vision follows Lt. Helen Andros, a half-breed who has had to work harder than anyone else just to get one grain of respect as a healer. Her hard work made her one of the best healers in all of Azgard, but it also guided her into being an abrasive, stubborn individual. What Helen doesn't know about her past, however, becomes a subject of brutal laws, violence, and political poison. Helen is an illegitimate orphan in a nation divided by race and rank, but when the truth of her origins begins to surface, the entire Toltec world will be shaken and the era of near-purity amongst the Toltec nobles will come to an end. Needless to say, some Toltecs aren't willing to lose their way of life and will try anything to hang on to their power and their belief in the purity of the Toltec race. Talmadge's novel does a decent job of establishing the world of Azgard and the characters that will play an important role throughout the series. One of the issues I had, however, was that, while a lot of worldbuilding is a good thing, the worldbuilding in this novel seemed a bit much for the space provided. Some of the elements of Azgard seemed under dressed or overwhelmed by too much dressing. It became somewhat difficult to remember who was who, who was related to who, etc. This will likely be less of an issue in the following novels of the series, since most of the characters that will appear there will have already been established, but I feel like The Vision could have benefited from additionally pages devoted to showing us the world and all its intricacies. Setting the worldbuilding aside, The Vision is a highly political book that delves into the inner workings of thoroughly entrenched politics--in this case the Toltec nobles. It is populated with a variety of interesting characters. Helen, who eventually becomes mixed up in all of it, even though, technically, she was already rather mixed up in it, takes center stage, with a huge cast of lords surrounding her, who generally are easy to pick out from the crowd, but can get a bit muddled when you toss them into a room full of other lords. Helen, though, is the resident "difficult one." She has good reason to be and her rather harsh dealings with other characters often come off in a humorous way. Other characters, such as Lord Justin, would do well with more characterization in later installments--this is something I'm hoping for. For the most part I enjoyed The Vision, but it had several flaws, some of which have already been mentioned. One additional issue is one of style. Talmadge moves between POVs fluidly, but without breaks. She jumps back and forth between characters, sometimes to convey information to the reader that can't be conveyed with Helen or whoever is supposed to be the main viewpoint in that particular part of the book. This is a problem for me because I don't particularly like this style; often times it seems amateur and I see it as distracting from the characters that are most important to the story. Hopefully it lightens up in the other books. Overall, The Vision is a complex piece of speculative fiction. While it has many flaws, it at least succeeds in being somewhat intriguing. Helen's wit and tough attitude are attributes to pay attention to and there are certainly plenty of interesting things to be said or observed about the politics of the Toltecs. Something I am still very much curious about is how much of the plot is actually set up by one of the other characters, whose name I will not mention here to preserve the mystery of the story. Is it all an elaborate ploy, or did it just work out the way it did with the noble houses becoming split by one person, even though that person never asked for it?


T.D. Newton said...

The fluidly switching viewpoints without breaks sounds to me like David Gemmell (though I've only read Legend and Waylander). Is it anything like that?

Charles Gramlich said...

I often struggle with heavily political books, even if the politics is integral to the storyline. A little bit goes a logn ways with me.