30 December 2007

Writing on Reading: Julian May

Juilan May is an accomplished writer of both science fiction and fantasy, but I confess that Conqueror's Moon is the first book I've read by her. Conqueror's Moon is book one of the Boreal Moon trilogy, and it fits the mold of many epic fantasies that are on the market today. The prose is smooth and the world is built in a detailed and logical way. The plot is straightforward, revolving around a prince's surprise attack on a neighboring kingdom.

While Conqueror's Moon will be a perfectly satisfactory read for most fantasy readers, it has flaws. The first chapter is written in first person, from the POV of one of the primary protagonists. The huge and poorly disguised info dump in this first chapter made me want to stop reading. The rest of the book is written in third person limited. The change in POVs bothered me because the first chapter plants in the reader's mind that the rest of the book was "written" by the first person POV character, but the book contains numerous thoughts and actions that the "writer" could not have known. Furthermore, the first person POV at the beginning takes away tension later because we know the POV character will survive the life-threatening situations he faces.

A second flaw revolves around the morality of the characters. I do not think that fantasies have to be a battle between "good" versus "evil" characters (i.e. I love George R.R. Martin's "grey" characters). On the other hand, I don't like it when an author just assumes you are going to hope that the protagonist achieves his goals simply because he's the protagonist. In Conqueror's Moon, the prince's cause was not just and his personal morals were questionable at best. The prince is unwilling to trust his most loyal servants, plots against his father, has an extra-material affair, and divorces is pregnant wife for political reasons.  In contrast, the "bad guys", while flawed, did not seem at all deserving of the prince's wrath. As a result, the "climatic" battle scene between the prince's forces and his enemies looses its punch because it does not seem important that the prince prevail. In fact, I became increasingly tempted to root for the "bad guys."

Finally, the challenges faced by the protagonists were too easily overcome. The prince formulated a plan, then the plan was executed as expected. The plot was essentially linear, with few unexpected twists or setbacks.

Despite its flaws, Conqueror's Moon is an entertaining read, and it shows that May is a talented writer. Have any of you read May's science fiction? If so, how it does it compare to her fantasy writing?

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