Monday, February 6, 2012

Eye of the Sword: A Novel (The Angelaeon Circle, Book 2), by Karyn Henley


Trevin has been both a thief and a traitor--now he is pledging fealty to King Laetham of Camrithia, in an effort to atone for his past sins and protect the woman he loves: King Laetham's daughter Melaia.  But someone else is also interested in Melaia--a swaggering, untrustworthy Dregmoorian prince who promises peace in exchange for marriage with the princess.  Trevin is powerless to stop their marriage, as the king sends him off to look for the missing comains (knights) who disappeared without a trace years before.  Trevin is determined to succeed in this quest, and in another: he wants to find the missing harps Melaia needs to restore the stairway to heaven.  Along the way, Trevin battles false accusations, his own guilt and shame, and a variety of more substantial enemies as well, and eventually discovers truths about his past that could change his future forever . . .

If this all sounds kind of confusing, good.  Because it is.  This book is ridiculous.  The whole thing is chock full of Henley's fantasy vocabulary--place names, magical races (including so many varieties of angels that she includes a chart in the opening pages to help the reader remember the difference between Ophanim, Kuriotes, Archae, Thronos, Exousia, Archangels, regular Angels, and Nephilim--many of whom do not even appear in this book), positions of power, magical substances, quests, mythology, and heaven (heh) only knows what all else.  There are plotlines criss-crossing all over the place.  Rejius wants to kill Benasin; Laetham wants to find his missing comains and restore peace to his lands; Stalia wants to take over Camrithia; Melaia wants to unite the three magic harps to restore the stairway to heaven and then maybe marry Trevin; Trevin wants to make up for his shadowy past and maybe marry Melaia; Varic wants to kill Trevin, take over Camrithia, and maybe marry Melaia . . . it's a mess, is what I am saying.

I realize that a certain amount of new vocabulary is a part of most fantasy literature.  Made-up places and things require made-up names.  But the vocabulary is presented quite ham-handedly; the new words are far too dense and are dumped on a reader without any sort of skill or nuance.  And the names themselves are laughable.  Of course the evil suitor is a 'Dregmoorian' prince.  It just sounds evil.  Of course the angel of fire is called 'Flametender'.  Somehow, Henley has created a vocabulary both unfamiliar and cliche, and it takes a diligent and determined reader to wade through all the new words and make sense of it all.

Then, too, I realize that this is the second book in a series.  A lot has happened (from what I could gather), and Henley is stuck trying to build on her earlier foundation while helping new readers (like me) catch up on all the events of the previous book.  This is not an easy task.  But it can be done well--it has been done well, by other authors in similar situations.  The exposition fairy does not flit gently through the book, bestowing backstory as needed to fill in gaps here and there--she plops her 600-pound behind right in the middle of the story and flails around desperately, dumping dense and convoluted background information on the reader in fits and starts. Indeed, some of the information does not appear to be necessary to the plot of this book at all, so the reader has to sift through it all for the useful (as opposed to extraneous) data.  This barrage of unorganized 'previouslies,' on top of the new vocabulary and the seemingly endless cast of characters, is quite dizzying to the new reader.

I will say this, though. Once you slog through all the new names and places and kinds of angels, and you get the general idea of what happened in the first book (so, once Henley stops bashing you over the head with vocab and exposition), the book starts to be quite enjoyable.  It's still kind of ridiculous and cliche, but it actually becomes sort of fun toward the end.

I can't really recommend the book, but I have hope that Henley will develop into a decent fantasy author. This trilogy was, I think, a bit complex and large-scale for her.  Perhaps she'll scale down the vastness of her stories, or maybe she will handle complicated, epic plots more skillfully.  She's got quite an imagination, and the story itself was fairly interesting, if a bit convoluted.  And who knows?  Maybe I would like it better if I'd read the first book.

[UPDATE:  A review of the first book, Breath of Angel, is now available here.)

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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