Customer Review

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very poor (review contains some spoilers), 6 Jun. 2007
This review is from: Codex (Paperback)
There's a really good ideas behind this book - what happens if you're looking for a mysterious manuscript that someone wants very, very badly and you discover that the subject matter of that manuscript appears in a popular virtual reality computer game that is sweeping through geeks everywhere? It's an intriguing premise that digs into two buzz areas of popular culture - complex searches and computer game culture. The problem is that Lev Grossman's execution is appalling.

From the start, the "hot shot young banker" is unconvincing. We're supposed to believe that he's an intelligent, ruthless investment banker on the up and up. Unfortunately, Edward Wozny has the backbone of a jellyfish. It's this dichotomy between what Grossman wants us to see and what he puts on the page that really ruins the experience for me. This is because what should be a driven, intelligent young man is led through the salient plot points by contrivance. We don't see him decide anything (even though snap decisions should be central to his character) - instead he is governed by his failure to act and this passivity robs the book of any pace or ugency (which we should have in droves because of the fact that he's supposedly only got two weeks to find this text). Indeed, Grossman loses confidence in even his fortnight time frame and finds another reason to extend it.

Poor characterisation also ruins any tension or mystery on the part of the Duke and Duchess. We gradually learn that they're at war with each other but we're never told why and indeed, their first appearance in the text doesn't suggest anything other than two people who are bored with each other. The Duchess's motivation for seeking the Codex is limp and Grossman cannot decide whether he wants her to be manipulative and cunning or just a confusing ditz. Given that it's the Duchess's motivation for wanting the book that should be a big reveal in the story, the ham-fisted way in which it's handled is a disappoinent.

Also disappointing is the characterisation of Margaret, both as Edward's partner in trying to find the text and as his love interest. Again, she's unconvincing and her initial role is to serve as Little Miss Exposition, giving you details about why this book could be important and what it's supposedly about. I was particular irritated by this because Grossman actually sets out an interesting premise for the book, and I initially thought that he was going to take a path similar to The Rule Of Four (another medieval manuscript story by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason) but when she cracks the mystery, it's depressingly simplistic and a huge let-down. Grossman has a really good premise, but can't work out the delivery. In addition, the final twist in the text involves Margaret, but I can guarantee that you will see it coming from almost the very start because she's so bland and boring, that it's the only possible way he could liven her up.

Where Grossman does get it right is in the computer game segments. He really gets across the sense of time-loss that you feel when you get fully immersed into a game - there's a scene where Edward joins a group of computer nerds for a joined up battle that's particularly well done and convincing. Again though, what lets him down is that his parallel between the game and the book is half-baked. He has a character with real potential in the Artiste (although the tendency of writers to make characters suffer from Aspergers is itself becoming a cliche) but throws him away due to unconvincing motivation, which is particularly annoying at the end of the book where you expect some kind of explanation or hint behind his actions but never get it.

Grossman's pacing in the story leaves a lot to be desired. The search for the book is crucial to the plot, but when you get to page 190 and you're not told why this book is so special, you start to lose interest. The last fifteen pages feel like a tag on - Grossman is obviously trying to tie up loose ends but it's too late by then and really serves only to highlight the problems with his characters.

There are some real bloopers within the text that made me laugh. For example, Edward seems delighted that he's going to be flown to London by the Duchess in business class. Given the amount of money that the woman's supposedly got and given that Edward is supposed to be an investment banker, this should have been a "yeah, big deal" moment. Flying first class would have been a better bet. There's also a curious lack of hassle on the part of Edward's employer to his failure to respond on the arrangements of his transfer from New York to London - having relocated overseas myself, I can guarantee that you get chased on that sort of thing because they want you there on day one, ready to make money for them.

Ultimately, I can't help but feel that this purely was an opportunistic publication on the part of Random House. Mysteries with a medieval background and people in power are very much en vogue due to Dan Brown and there's a glut of similar stories in bookshops. However, I think that they jumped the gun on this one. The germ of an entertaining read is in there, but it would have benefitted from a major re-write to allow Grossman to iron out the contrivances in the text.
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