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The Game of Sunken Places (The Norumbegan Quartet) Paperback – 1 Sep 2005
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I suppose what I would consider the main failure here is the perfunctory way the two best friends' relationship is sketched. There could have been so much more done with this aspect of the plot; it's obvious by the way they interact that they are changing and maturing as the game proceeds. Gregory learns to curb his tongue a bit and think more of others, and Brian comes out from Gregory's shadow as he becomes a little bolder. But this is all given short shrift; the characterisations were not very deep and this lack of attention to detail was a missed opportunity on the part of the author.
When I reached the end of the story I also had some MAJOR moral/ethical questions about what took place. So much so, that a few elements of the novel left a sour taste behind. So, that's a definite minus. (I can't really say anything further about this without giving away major plot elements, though!)
Another drawback was that I REALLY wanted to see some artwork in this book, if only a detailed depiction of the magical game-board with all the paths and geography laid out. It would have helped the reader follow the story more easily and drawn them into this world. Lack of such a map was a major omission in my opinion, and I wonder that such an illustration was not included.
However, I overall I still enjoyed the story well enough that I'll say, go ahead---give it a try. We'll call this a slightly reserved recommendation. I rated this at three stars, but I suppose a more detailed rating (if such a thing were possible here on Amazon) would result in my giving it about three-and-a-half stars. A sequel has recently been published (six years after the release of the first novel) titled "The Suburb Beyond the Stars"---I'm curious to see what happens next and will likely read it at some point.
Yet another great David Frankland design on the dust jacket of this book. It's bizarre what a draw Frankland's art is for me. Every time I see one of his covers I want to instantly buy the book, no questions asked.
But as good as all the ideas are, the writing is, unfortunately, below average. The writer takes what could be a fast moving page-turner of a story and slows it down so much that he makes it almost uninteresting. It's almost unnoticed, and perhaps is completely unintentional, but one of the major characters, Brian, goes through a kind of transformation during the course of the story. But the author downplays it so much that it comes out as unnoticed within the book, and, as I said, was perhaps even unnoticed by the author himself.
As I said, it's not a bad book, but there are so many others out there that are better I hesitate to recommend this one. Try "The House With a Clock in Its Walls" by John Bellairs and Edward Gorey for a taste of the genre done right (albeit a bit dated). Or even the recent "Chasing Vermeer", by Blue Balliett for a very well written mystery.
Anyway, I liked this book very well; it sets the tone well for the series in establishing the main characters and their personalities, and the opposing forces they are operating under. The confusion the characters feel is palpable, as they play a game they don't understand against an opponent they don't understand, in a place they don't understand. Gradually, they begin to dimly see the purpose of the Game, and somewhat how to play (though they still break many of the rules).
I like the odd sense of humor the author has, in arranging ridiculous situations that are actually quite serious.