Review: The Wanderers by Paula Brandon

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Author: Paula Brandon
Genre: fantasy, steampunk, horror
Series: The Veiled Isles #3
Pages: 416 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected July 31 2012
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 2.75/5

Paula Brandon’s acclaimed fantasy trilogy comes to a triumphant conclusion in an unforgettable collision of magic, intrigue, and romance.
Time is running out. Falaste Rione is imprisoned, sentenced to death. And even though the magical balance of the Source is slipping and the fabric of reality itself has begun to tear, Jianna Belandor can think only of freeing the man she loves. But to do so, she must join a revolution she once despised—and risk reunion with a husband she has ample reason to fear.

Meanwhile, undead creatures terrorize the land, slaves of the Overmind—a relentless consciousness determined to bring everything that lives under its sway. All that stands in the way is a motley group of arcanists whose combined powers will barely suffice to restore balance to the Source. But when Jianna’s father, the Magnifico Aureste Belandor, murders one of them, the group begins to fracture under the pressures of suspicion and mutual hatred. Now humanity’s hope rests with an unexpected soul: a misanthropic hermit whose next move may turn the tide and save the world.

This entire review is going to get a lot SPOILERy, so stay away unless that's good with you!

Unfortunately, this series that never quiiite panned out for me; I liked it but that is the sole extent of the feeling inspired by these books. I hesitated to start my ARC of the first book (for months...), but finally dove in and was mildly surprised by the complex worldbuilding and the original ideas that present amid an otherwise uneven debut. However, after my unexpected experience with The Traitor's Daughter, neither its direct sequel The Ruined City, or this, the trilogy's conclusion, lived up to the sheer awesome potential that a fantasy series based on a magical upheaval and zombie apocalypse could should have been. With the amount of and mix of genres and ideas that The Wanderers has within the four hundred page length, some plotlines/characters are inevitably neglected to the detriment of the overall impression of the novel and series. While I obviously walked away from this genre-blending series much less enthused than I'd hoped to be, I will definitely stay tuned to see what else this author comes up with in the future.

The tension and danger is supposed to be at its utmost level here, having theoretically built up a large confrontation between the Overmind and the humans/arcanists over the last two novels. But... no, not really. I never really felt the suspense build to anything credible, nor was I really impressed with the zombies (aka the "Wanderers" of the title), "plague-wraiths" and all else used to induce fear in the characters themselves. the narrative jumps around from story to story; from Jianna's mad (heroic!) plans to her father/uncle's expedition to the deteriorating city of Virtisi itself, supposedly illustrating the increased antagonism. The idea of the Overmind as an alien opponent is really a good one - the same with the alternating polarity of magic. Unfortunately, the execution of the threat of the Inhabitants/Pockets is somewhat lacking in retrospect (the Pockets, especially seem devoid of threat or malevolence). What Paula Brandon does well, really very well actually, is in the history and worldbuilding behind her medieval-ish Veiled Isles. Faerlonne is a vaguely recognizable as an homage to the Italian city-states of real-world Earth, but is an utterly original, conquered nation with its arcanists, humanoid amphibian slaves called Sishmindri. Each successive novel in the series does a more than considerable job advancing the knowledge about Faerlonne and Taerleez - something I greatly enjoyed.

Both the characters and dialogue are still very rudimentary and repetitive in the third novel. I was more forgiving of these in the first, but the weighted down dialogue, full of exposition, never really goes away and it gets old. While Jianna has grown and changed, it doesn't feel authentic. For example, she now supports the resistance and Faerlonnish freedom from their oppression but the idea of Sishmindri independence is abhorrent to her.  Love interest Dr. Falaste Rione is still stereotypically perfect and for that unfortunate reason I can't buy into the romance between the two or in any chemistry between him and the young "maidenlady".  The voice of each character can be stilted and wooden - the third person perspective feels appropriate especially when the book focuses in on the city storyline, but it does Jianna and Aureste themselves no favors. I first found Aureste to be a delightfully morally-grey and conflicted character with a murky personal history - over the course of the last two novels his characterization degenerated into a mindless and often oblivious bully. The same is true of the still now-unnecessary Yvenza, the secondary antagonist from The Traitor's Daughter. Since the end of that book she has drifted along in each sequel, serving no real purpose behind transparent plotting and scheming.

Aside from all that bitching above, my main issue with The Wanderers is just how easy and simple the resolution to every single plot line is. Seriously. There's no real struggle for the main characters. The final conflict between the beleaguered arcanists and the Overmind to "cleanse" the Source was utterly underwhelming and rushed - Aureste at least had a battle worthy of a zombie-apocalypse-novel finale, but I was very disappointed in just how lamely it was executed. Jianna and Falaste's ridiculous escape from prison also smacks of deux-ex-machinas or just "terribly convenient."  I would've applauded the author if she had carried through, but there are other ways to rescue her doomed lovers than the laughable manner chosen here. For the hundreds and hundreds of pages (415 + 384 + 416 = 1215) accrued to reaching these final pages and epic "once every several generations" conflict, it simply wasn't the impact and fight promised. The only slight exception is Aureste, but from Nalio's easy escape (so everyone's cool with the fact that he was gong to let Jianna be executed when he could've stopped it? Yeah? Okay then...) to Onartino's less than exciting final appearance there was a certain lack of ooomph.

An uneven series that started out strongly and faltered more and more as it approached the end, there's still a lot of originality at play in the Veiled Isles trilogy. The Wanderers, especially, didn't quite manage to live up to my expectations, but Paula Brandon has proven herself to be an inventive new author with creativity to burn. In a genre where a lot of novels go for the same predictable fantasy tropes, Paula Brandon constantly tries for new ideas and angles, and even if they don't quite pan out, it's worth a try to venture into her fertile imagination.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Copyright © 2015 Ageless Pages Reviews. All Rights Reserved.

Amelia Theme by The Lovely Design CO and These Paper Hearts.