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These Eagles Can't Quite Take Wing
on 18 May 2009
Ms. Elliott has established a fair reputation with her Jaran series and the Crown of Stars set. This book looks like it might be the start of another incredibly long series. In and of itself, long stories are not a problem, as they allow the author to properly set the scene, build up all the little details of the world, and explore the characters in depth, and there's a lot of that set-up work done in this novel. Much of this is quite good, as she gives us a look at not one but multiple different societies, each with their own culture, habits, gods, and idiosyncrasies, along with a fairly nice reworking of the old trope of giant flying creatures capable of hauling people around with her eagles that are at least a little less unbelievable than the fire-breathing dragons that inhabit too many fantasies.
However, there becomes just too much of this background and scene setting. Every time someone walks down the street, every detail of that street needs to remarked upon, every peddler, beggar, fruit stand, scent, and building. The world mythology is detailed multiple times, frequently with the exact same words. After a while, this continuous descriptive work becomes overwhelming and smothers the story. In a planned series of books, I don't expect the first book to have a great amount of story/plot development, but here I found only enough to really occupy about a 200 hundred page book. As it actually runs to over 400 pages, that's a lot of filler.
Her character development is good, with enough depth given to several characters to make me care about what happens to them, and I found these people to be generally likable even with their obvious character flaws. The problems her characters face grow naturally from the environment and the starting premise of the book. Her world seems to somewhat standard for a fantasy novel, with no high-tech wonders and a generally feudal type structure, but she has added the province of the Hundred, which seems to be much closer to a people's democracy with guaranteed rights for individuals, aided by benevolent, and, at least the beginning of this work, respected judges. As such, it makes an interesting contrast to the rest of her world.
An interesting story line and world populated by real people, but in severe need of pruning some of the excess descriptive work.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)