Sep 1, 2012

Book Review–Vengeance by Ian Irvine

vengeanceI wanted to like this book. 

I interviewed Ian Irvine for the Galactic Chat podcast and have since met him in person – he’s a gentleman.  Which makes having to review this book difficult because my desire to like a fantasy by an Australian author comes up against the book itself. 

We didn’t get along, Vengeance and me.


It began with the characters.  I didn’t feel drawn to any of them and for the life of me I am unsure as to why? There’s certainly enough time for the reader to explore each of them (the novel doesn’t really take off until somewhere between page 110 – 150) but none of them hooked me in. 

Tali a Pale slave girl who carries a magic pearl embedded in her brain is witness to her mother’s murder. She’s condemned to fits of anger, awakening magical ability and a desire for vengeance.  She’s a typical underdog / dispossessed noble figure that I have no trouble in going along with usually.  But I got nothing here.

Rix, son and heir of one of the wealthy up and coming houses of Hightspall is similarly a tragic figure, haunted by past horrors and emotionally crippled by nightmares. His dialog and actions seem schizophrenic – an intentional move I’d say considering what we a told about his character.  Rix felt forced to me rather than tormented.

Tobry, son of a fallen house is the character that I felt an awakening interest for.  This came from the mystery surrounding his past, the extra depth he seemed to posses displayed in a consistent portrayal of character through dialog.

The setting

Aside from the characters I didn’t really get a clear feel for the setting and that’s despite the clear thought and effort Irvine has invested in the world. 

Vengeance is a little unusual for a fantasy setting – a magical medieval world blended with a magical technological world.  The Hightspallers are your traditional fantasy kingdom and Cythonians have developed an understanding of chemistry and biology and have a distinctly mechanical worldview.
I should love this sort of thing, I dig Steampunk, and cross genre fiction.  Mentions of the Cythonian culture were replete with names like Chymister, and Alchymister. There were references to Subsisteries and other Cythonian industry intended to convey a certain feel.  But again it didn’t draw me in. 

The ecology and physical setting seems a bit at odds with your traditional fantasy too, which is probably the intention.  I think Irvine is aiming for original and distinct but falling short, for my taste at least. This strikes me most in simple things like naming conventions and place names.  To me they lack a cohesiveness or a sense of cultural verisimilitude – they don’t ring true and this drops me from the story.  We have for example place names like the Vomits, or Precipitous Crag juxtaposed with Reffering and Nyrdly.

Now I am not saying the Irvine needed to come up with 10,000 years of history and language formation to justify place names ala Tolkien but in epic fantasy more than anything else place names reflect the culture and thereby the impression you are trying to create.

In summary

Honestly I think Vengeance is aimed at a slightly less experienced readership. Irvine does tend to spell things out for the reader, motivations, emotions and the like.  This is something that I  imagine a reader with less life experience might require or appreciate, whereas older, more experienced readers will find inference to be enough. 

This book was provided to me by the publisher.

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