Backlist Series Review: Percheron by Fiona McinTosh

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Titles: Odalisque, Emissary, Goddess
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Percheron #1 - #3
Pages: Odalisque: 480
Emissary: 544
Goddess: 576
Source: purchased
Rating: Odalisque: 2/5
Emissary: 1/5
Goddess: N/A

Captured by slave traders in the inhospitable desert, Lazar fought his way to freedom, earning the coveted position of Spur of Percheron. Charged with protecting his adopted city from enemies on both sides of its walls, he has led a charmed life as confidant to and protector of Zar Joreb for many years. But now Joreb is dead. . . .

Though Joreb's well-intentioned fifteen-year-old heir, Boaz, will take the title of Zar, the balance of power lies in the hands of his beautiful and cruelly ambitious mother, a former harem slave who rose to power by the Zar's favor. Aside from Lazar, whom Boaz trusts and respects, the young Zar's only friend is Pez, the court jester, a misshapen dwarf whose tricks and diversions are accepted only because he is known to be mad.

When a stunning young girl is brought to the palace to fill a space in Boaz's harem, both Boaz and Lazar are surprised by their unexpectedly strong reactions to her. But Ana, the odalisque, finds the closeted world of the harem stifling and unbearable. And unbeknownst to all, the gods themselves are beginning to rise in a cyclical battle that is just beginning, and will enmesh everyone in the palace in a struggle for the very soul of Percheron.

This is a series review, however I only made it all the way through the first two books of this fantasy trilogy. I skimmed the third novel to see how it would all end but I was just completely unwilling to commit to the however long amount of time it would have taken me to complete that 576-page beast. This was one I wanted to love but ended up being disappointed and frustrated at the end. So, my thoughts on the first two books.... 

Set amongst a dangerous royal succession, book one had potential. The new Zar of this fantasy version of Istanbul, Boaz, has to face some heavy duties -- like deadly them court intrigue and the weight of ruling. However, Boaz's character arc is exactly the obvious one you'd guess. He does what you expect and never really matures into a memorable character, even over the course of the two books in this long-winded I managed to finish.

In another book with a more development, I would be most interested in Boaz's mother Herezah, aka the dowager Zarah, called the Valide in the culture that McIntosh has created. Giving her a storyline dedicated to her rise to power through political machinations (like in Karen Miller's Empress about a power-hungry female MC) would have been great. I love stories about cunning and able women who survive and thrive against the odds in a world of patriarchal values. However, Herezah's development is so over the top as to be rendered a caricature. There's no depth to her characterization; she's evil because... she needs to be evil to further the predictable plot.

There also just little to no subtlety in the Percheron series. Our hero's name is.... Lazar (YEP, really). The bad guy is obvious and underdeveloped. Everyone's motives are what exactly your first guess would assume. Another con of the writing throughout this series: trope of a main female characters (pssst if the only way your female character is "strong" is by making every other woman in the harem weak? You fail.) -- they're all perfect and gentle and kind... unless they're Herezah. That, to me, is lazy writing and unwanted in fantasy novels. There are many kinds of strong female characters, but there needs to be individuality, as well. The religion angle has possibilities; it's at least original and different from the genre staples that influence the majority of the book's aspects.
I kept reading beyond the first book despite a 2-star rating because I did love that there was a resurgent matriarchal religion, the Istanbul-ish locale as an inspiration for a fantasy world, and the original worldbuilding when it wasn't infodumped. I thought the culture of this series was pretty creative and memorable and wished it had been featured in a series with more depth and development. There was a lot of potential for growth but the execution left me unable to invest with emotion or my time after book two was just as predictable and shallow as the first. The Percheron saga is made of slow-moving books with predictable plotting and one that fails to utilize the aspects that would set it apart in the genre.

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