I need more complexity and less overtly-predictable character descriptions
Sometimes I read a book that everyone else seems to love and for some reason it just doesn’t resonate with me. Then I wonder, “Is it just me?” or “Did I miss something?” David Hair’s Moontide series is one that I kept hearing amazing things about. Hair is a New Zealand author, one of many up and coming talented writers who have been emerging on the fantasy scene recently from that island country. One particular review that I came across regarding this series even went so far as to say that it was a worthy substitute if you are eagerly awaiting the next George R.R. Martin Song of Ice and Fire book to be released. That is high praise indeed! So I felt like I wasn’t really taking a very big chance when I picked up the first volume, Mage’s Blood based primarily on all of the good publicity. After reading the summary it looked like Hair was attempting to construct a fantasy retelling of the whole Middle Eastern culture vs the western conflict that has evolved in our past and present “real life” history. I have never read a fantasy book that touched on this topic before and it intrigued me to say the least. Hair definitely has some guts to tread into that territory and I thought it was not only a brave move but also a fresh idea to try to tell the story of that history in a fantasy-like setting where magic is involved. I was very eager to get started and had high hopes that I would be deeply engrossed in this book and ultimately the rest of the series going forward. I prepared myself to be blown away, which is always a perilous move when you read something new. Alas, although I thought the book was entertaining and even somewhat captivating at times, there were a few things that stopped me from really liking it and in the end; it didn’t click on enough levels to make me want to give it anything more than a slightly above average rating.
The action of Mage’s Blood unfolds on two major continents: Yuros and Antiopia. Yuros is essentially Europe and Antiopia could be considered the Middle East. The continent of Yuros is populated with powerful mages who use their powers to subjugate the lesser populace on their own continent as well as the people of Antiopia. Long ago in the history of the two lands, a Leviathan Bridge connecting the two continents was erected across the ocean by a renegade mage named Antonin Meiros. The bridge would appear every 10 years with the Moontide and was initially designed to promote trade, communication, and understanding between the two vastly different cultures. However, the ruling mages of Yuros quickly became distrustful of the people of Antiopia and decided to launch a violent crusade to occupy it for the purpose of conquest. The last two crusades were devastatingly successful in Yuros’ favor and there is a growing fear in Antiopia that when the next Moontide raises the Leviathan Bridge again, the next crusade may spell the final end for Antiopia. A small band of transplanted Yuros citizens who emigrated to Antiopia for peaceful purposes during one of the crusades may be the only hope in turning away the third crusade. These citizens are led by Elena Anborn, former Yuros assassin turned guardian and chief councilor to the most influential royal family in Antiopia. Elena, a powerful mage in her own right, sees that Yuros is only concerned with conquering and exploiting Antiopia and is determined that the continent be ready for the attack when it eventually comes. Will the invaders be thrown back by Antiopia’s forces? Or will the mages in Yuros win out again and ultimately conquer the whole of that land, forever enslaving its people under their brutal rule.
This book had so many possibilities that could have made it great for me. The parallel to Islamic/Indian cultures clashing with western culture is something that I was interested in because of everything that is going on in the world today. I definitely thought it was an interesting avenue to pursue for a fantasy book/series. The Crusades mentioned in the first few chapters are obviously a reference to the Christian crusades of the 11th and 12th century in which many Muslims living in that part of the world were forced to either convert or die. So when that part of the story came up, I totally got it and understood what Hair was trying to do. It’s only as I read further into the story that I began to see that instead of simply telling the story of the historical conflict between the west and middle-east culture in a balanced way, just in a different setting, Hair’s personal commentary largely overpowered the narrative. Reading it, I was struck by how every single viewpoint character on the continent of Yuros was evil, selfish, conniving, a murderer etc. These people had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Conversely, the majority of the characters living in Antiopia were just simple people looking to be left alone. They were portrayed as helpless victims of the maniacal mages of Yuros with no counterbalance at all. Let me speak plainly, I have no skin in the game when it comes to the real world conflict happening in our world today. I think that both sides have done some unspeakably horrible things over the years and that there is no good guy in this scenario. My main beef concerns how it was handled in this book. When reading a story where you have two sides, both of which are cookie-cutter portrayals of bad and good, it takes away from any enjoyment that I have regarding the plot. It truly is a shame because Hair is a skilled writer and there were times where I got immersed in the story, only to be put off by yet another vile act committed by the incredibly evil mages of Yuros on the helpless Antiopians. I was expecting more intricate plotting and less “black and white” so to speak. As a result of this, I found myself not enjoying the book for large chunks at a time. I’m not saying that this is a bad book; not by a long shot. I’m simply saying that personally, I need more complexity and less overtly-predictable character descriptions. Simply describing one side as always bad and the other as always good and then never deviating from that template doesn’t do it for me. I can only give Mage’s Blood average marks, but if you are into fantasies that are a classic good vs. evil plot with a lot of military action thrown in, then this one may be for you. Sadly, it just wasn’t for me.
Review by Nick Taraborrelli
Robert Musillo from USA
The Moontide Quartet is actually one of my favorite fantasy reads of all time. However... the first book didn't click with me at least of first read. I put it down when done and thought it okay. After the third book came out I decided to pick it up and start reading book 2 / 3. It really picks up after the first book and somehow the later books made the first book more enjoyable. I read through the full 4 books twice now.
7/10 from 2 reviews