Monday, January 16, 2012

"The Last Stormlord" by Glenda Larke-- Great World Building, Weak Characters

In the four quarters of the Scarpen water is provided to the people by the Stormlord and the Rainlords who keep the land alive with their power over water. But the Stormlord is dying and there are no Rainlords strong enough to move the storms that bring water to the cities. The Rainlords decide to go on a desperate search for a new Stormlord, even venturing into the poorest quarters in hopes of finding a water sensitive strong enough to save their way of life.

Shale is a young man barely surviving among the waterless of the Gibber quarter. Shale doesn't tell his alcoholic father that he can sense deep pockets of water out in the desert because of a deep wariness among their people that mistrusts anyone that demonstrates any water sensitivity. So Shale hides from the Rainlords so his ability won't be discovered-- which leads to an opportunity for those who want to overthrow the rule of Stormlords to use Shale for their own mission to return the land to a time of random rain.

Terelle was born in the Gibber and started out life as one of the waterless, but she has come to dread the life she faces in the snuggery more than a life without a water allotment. As the day looms when she will be sold into her first night of prostitution Terelle desperately searches for a way out of her circumstances but her escape into a new life comes from an unexpected place. Terelle learns there's more to water magic than she ever knew and her destiny has been shaped for her in ways she could never have imagined as she gets caught up in a larger conspiracy that threatens to change the world forever.

The Last Stormlord is a return to the kind of fantasy I grew up with; a style that puts a strong emphasis on world building with a strong magical foundation. Larke does a fabulous job of creating a believable world with varying cultures. The details she includes regarding the way people dress, look and behave paints a vivid picture of the place the characters inhabit and that alone makes this a book worth mentioning. Likewise the magic, which is centered around the manipulation of water, is skillfully crafted with time spent on explaining how it works and why it is important. The most believable aspect of the story were the little things-- like the outrage over stepping in a mud puddle as a flagrant waste of water.

But when it came to characterizations "The Last Stormlord" didn't bring the same level of credibility that was brought to the setting. There is some attempt to put the characters into "good" and "bad" categories with some shades of grey, but mostly they got mired down in the usual stereotypes. The two main characters Terelle and Shale are, thankfully, fairly well done. Because we're allowed to follow their progress from youth to young adulthood there is the opportunity to see the necessary growing pains of a character we're meant to empathize with. But rarely are we given the chance to bond with any other characters in a meaningful way. Most of the "good" guys are the kind of people who have been raised in circumstances of privilege and have little concept of hardship. When confronted with a bleak future they're quick to shore up their own circumstances as the expense of others-- and that aspect of the story is believable. But when obvious solutions are presented the characters display a level of obtuseness that's hard to get past. Some characters are allowed to ambiguously hover between good and bad but they are only ones credited with any intelligence while everyone else seems confused or insistent on taking the most illogical position available.

Certain threads of the story also have a kind of repetitious nature. For example: both Shale and Terelle take up apprenticeships without really trusting the motives of their mentors. Additionally all the romantic relationships seem founded more on overdone misunderstandings than any kind of natural progression.

Overall "The Last Stormlord" was a book I had to push myself to finish reading. The world-building is first rate and the detail oriented way Larke built her society was the main attraction for me. But the personalities of her characters fell flat. Their interactions sometimes felt forced and always hovered on the edge of being a cliché. I wanted to like the book enough to finish the whole series because there is some real quality in Larke's writing, but I never connected to the characters enough to want to invest in reading the full trilogy.

3 out of 5 stars.


Jamie (Mithril Wisdom) said...

Spot on review - that's exactly what I thought when I read it. It's a shame - with a magic system and world as rich as the one Larke has created, I'd like to read more, but I know I'd be bogged down with fairly bland characters.

Blodeuedd said...

Too bad it did not work all the way for you :/ But when i think about it...I did love the world more than the rest