Sunday, March 6, 2016

REVIEW: SUNG IN BLOOD

INTRODUCTION 
Sometimes, you do all the right things at the bookstore. You look through a section that has your favorite type of book, you grab one that looks like it's a good length, it has a decent or even spectacular cover, the synopsis is good, the Goodreads score is pretty good, and what little you read of it seems like it's something that will love. You're excited to read it, but when you finally do, it's just a bundle of disappointments stacked on top of each other. I use the second person in this scenario because I'd like to think I'm not the only person that this has happened to. Unfortunately this is pretty much the experience I had with Glen Cook's SUNG IN BLOOD, a fantasy book that seemed like it would be a quick little hit for me yet somehow managed to feel like it took forever to get through in spite of it being less than two hundred pages long. Now this might be a harsh way to open a review and it's important to set the precedent that there were SOME things that the novel handled well, but there were just so many annoyances along the way that I find myself hard pressed to say that I liked this.

HOW I RATED IT 

2/5 Cook constructs an intricately compelling setting that I am absolutely a fan of. It's just too bad that I found the characters and story-line to be every bit as dull as the world was vibrant.

CHARACTERS 
There really isn't all that much to say in this category. Are there just as many characters as one might expect in a fantasy novel? Yes. Is the cast diverse and colorful? Yes. But are any of the characters at all compelling? No, not one bit. For starters, they have really dumb names. There's Soup and Spud who I constantly got confused, probably because both their names have to do with food and both their personalities are equally indistinct. Then there is Preacher who likes to spout verses, though we are rarely ever treated to what those verses are which feels like a huge cop out when it comes to his character as well as the station he occupies. There's a stereotypical-ly grouchy barbarian named Chaz and probably one or two others that I'm forgetting about in the supporting cast, but all of them a pretty forgettable. The main protagonist here is a man known as Rider. He's the strong, handsome hero with all the power and none of the personality. Yeah he has emotions and such, but there's no real depth to his character. There's never a sense that he's doing what he does for any particular reason  and I never really knew what makes him tick. Rider's got a little demon minion named Su-Cha and if anyone is the life of the party, it's him. He's no less one dimensional than the rest of the crew, but he's a welcome source of comic relief in a story that takes itself rather seriously. The villains are a mix of just okay. The big bad is maniacal, but the only thing that really makes him scary is the obscene amount of power he wields. He's got a general named Emerald who's crafty, but otherwise inconsequential and then there's Caracene, who's supposed to be a witch, but she's more of a wallflower in most cases.

WORLD/SETTING 
The world in this book is by far one of the best fantasy settings I have EVER seen in a book. This is the one (and only) area in which the book shined and frankly, it's what kept me reading. I think many would probably describe this as a steampunk setting, though I'd argue it's more of a high fantasy world. There are airships and all other sorts of crazy medieval-ish contraptions and a TON of magical elements to be found as well. The way magic works in this world is very cool. There's this mystical construct known as "The Web" which Rider seems to derive some of his abilities from. Then there's also heavy use of totems, demon summoning, and the good old fashioned practice of shooting powers out from your hands. Even the airships themselves are much more magic-based (hence partly why I wouldn't call this steampunk).

The entire story takes place around one city, but the landscape of it is still quite varied. There is Rider's father's workshop, the castle, and lively streets that the characters explore along with some lush islands which surround the city of Shasesserre. The space never once felt confining and I truly did long to explore more of it even in the face of how little I liked the rest of the novel's components. I also loved that the broader world was mentioned in conversation in ways that felt meaningful to the world building. All in all, it was just a breathtakingly different place to visit and I'm glad to have had a book take me there.

PLOT/TONE 
I really don't know what to say in this category. The plot starts off very strong with the assassination of Rider's father, Jerkhe who's long served as the city's "protector." His death was undoubtedly organized by one of his enemies and has deep implications for the safety of the city. It's up to Rider and his ragtag band to find the mastermind behind the assassination and prove to everyone that they can keep the city safe from harm even without Jerkhe. If all of that sounds interesting enough, that's because it certainly  is on a superficial level. But the stale delivery of each and every line of dialogue and the constant lack of tension or suspense of any kind really just made this "adventure" feel like a chore to get through. It's possible that I was just so dispassionate towards all of the characters that I wasn't feeling the full effect of the more action-packed sequences, but either way there was a certain impact that I simply did not feel even though I appreciated the creativity and careful choreographing of the action. On the note of action though, I should point out that while Rider, Su-Cha, and some of the bad guys are all very proficient fighters, the rest of Rider's crew is almost useless. It is staggering how many times they are captured after putting up a pitiful fight during the course of this short work. I REALLY don't know what the deal is with that.

Another major issue I had was with the perspective switching. It's third person and Cook kind of uses a narrative voice that is similar to how a camera might follow characters in a movie.The trouble is that he is so stingy with providing visual descriptions that I often got lost as to who or what I was reading about at. And its weird because in spots, the imagery is top notch, then it's nonexistent in others. It's just a wildly inconsistent mix that really bugged me almost more than the weak characterizations.

CONCLUSION 
If you're the type of reader that really just loves a compelling world, then I think I might actually recommend this to you. The trouble is, if you're like me and characters and plot are actually the main draws when reading a piece of fiction, then this story will leave A LOT to be desired. It's certainly got it's charming moments and at it's best, it reminded me of one of those fantasy cartoons from the 90s (except in a much more adult flavor). Ultimately though, this should have been a much quicker read for me than it was and I found myself largely finishing it simply because it's short and I'm a bit behind where I want to be with my 2016 reading goals. I am also quite upset by the fact that this seems to be a standalone work, yet it had a ridiculously open-ended conclusion. At the end of the day, I'm sad to report that it wasn't to my tastes which is really too bad because Cook has an unbelievable knack for sucking readers into a living, breathing world of magic and mystery.

SUNG IN BLOOD is available in eBook, Paperback, and Hard Cover editions on Amazon.

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