Saturday, September 26, 2009

Why I don't like 'The Edge of the World'

Here's why I don't like this book so far. I haven't finished it, but I doubt this is premature.

Someone once said (don't remember who) to beware of the fantasy novel with a map in its first few pages. The Edge of the World starts with some characters on some boat going to some place. Then they're attacked by some foreign privateers and the captain broods, believing they've just started a war. I used to go to Frank Greene's writer's group and sometimes I hear his deep growling drawl in my head. Do not mistake movement for action. This is a lesson I think every fantasy author really should take to heart. How many pointless 'action scenes' does one read in this genre, anyway? How many faceless villains (orcs, trollocs, ogres, goblins, etc.) are hacked apart by bold intrepid heroes? I won't claim that I'm beyond a bit of swordplay. I happen to find it orgasmic when it's done right (Brian Ruckley, George R.R. Martin). But bad 'action scenes' are an eyesore, especially when they're not in service to the story. What's wrong with this line?

"He held a long boat-knife to defend himself, though its reach was much shorter than that of a Uraban scimitar."

Made me cringe, first time I read it. But bad action-writing isn't the biggest problem so far. The thing that really grinds my gears about this book right off the bat is that Anderson is already showing tendencies to stray from his own narrative and is delivering essays about the world he created. I wonder how much fantasy is doomed to mediocrity because of this one huge mistake. Patrick Rothfuss states it brilliantly in his Sci-Fi London interview, that you don't want to interrupt your story with unnecessary details. It's the writer's job to reveal them through the story and dialogue, not to shovel this information on the reader.

As I read this book, I'm reminded of Russell Kirkpatrick's Across the Face of the World. I wanted to like that book, just like I want to like this one. But they both suffer from a veritable death blow: poor charecterization. Wish I could tell you about the characters in either of those books (I actually read Kirkpatrick's entire trilogy). I seem to remember a whiny Rand Al-Thorish type, some warrior types, the standard bossy female types and a Sauronish bad guy. This book, so far, there's a king with an absurd name, his tough daughter, some other species guy who can memorize things (be still my beating heart) and some other guys. When I read fantasy, I want Kvothe, I want Tyrion Lannister, I want Aeglyss. At a stretch, I'll accept a Tanaros Blacksword or even a Rand Al-Thor. But both The Edge of the World and Across the Face of the World have characters so bland they begin to run together.

I'll stick with The Edge of the World, hoping it will improve. I have a pile of books that are calling my name though, so the temptation will be great.



  1. That sounds pretty damn horrible, I must admit. The sentence you extracted alone would make me go back to the store and tell them to rip the cover off and send it back to the publisher. :P

  2. Thankfully I didn't buy the book, only checked it out from Borders. :)