Acacia: The War with the Mein

Hype has a funny way of creating expectations in a reader's mind. Naturally, with critics calling David Anthony Durham's novel one of the best fantasy debuts of 2007, my expectations were quite high. Too high? I think not -- not with everything that's been said about Acacia: The War with the Mein. Nevertheless, I'm sad to report that this book, in my humble opinion, doesn't live up to the hype which was generated by the incredibly positive buzz surrounding this novel.

I feel bad about having to write a somewhat negative review about this one. As was the case with Brandon Sanderson's The Well of Ascension, Durham is a great guy and I really wanted to like Acacia. The near totality of the reviews I've read pertaining to this book -- online and in print -- make it sound as one of the best fantasy titles of the year. Hence, I was more than a little disappointed to discover that the novel suffered from a number of shortcomings.

My favorite aspect of Acacia turned out to be the worldbuilding. Indeed, David Anthony Durham created a fascinating universe, simultaneously traditional and exotic, which serves as a backdrop for his epic fantasy tale. His multiethnic cast, though not as well-done as Erikson's, is a welcome change to what has been the norm in the genre for years. The author's background in historical fiction is evident, thus allowing him to create an environment exuding a "realistic" feeling.

The prose is neat, and Durham paces Acacia adroitly. The initial premise and the ensemble of storylines woven together to assemble this tale are all very interesting. I found the plotlines involving the Lothan Aklun, the Quota, the Other Lands, the mist, the Numrek, the Mein and the Tunishnevre, and the Santoth to be absorbing. Those are the storylines that fueled my interest and urged me to read on. So where did it all go wrong?

What killed Acacia: The War with the Mein for me turned out to be the characterization. To say that they are lacking or leave something to be desired would be an understatement. For some unfathomable reason -- this is a first for me -- I absolutely hated all the main protagonists, good or bad. Throughout the book I kept hoping for the Arkan siblings -- Aliver, Dariel, Corinn and Mena -- to die. I kept wondering how Durham could come up with such an interesting setting, yet populate it with clichéd, two-dimensional characters that lacked a lot in the way of realism. Needless to say, I was unable to get into any of the siblings' storylines. As I mentioned in my review of Tad Williams' Shadowplay, it's decidedly hard to make royal teenagers likeable. Moreover, there were quite a few similarities between them and GRRM's Stark siblings. The fact that they achieve everything so easily, with all that's require of them falling into place perfectly, as if by magic, didn't sit well with me either. The supporting cast is a bit lame and unbelievable, which is what ultimately prevented me from enjoying the book beyond Durham's first-rate worldbuilding.

I found many of the concepts underlying the story to be engrossing enough to want to read the upcoming sequel. My only hope is that David Anthony Durham will up his game where characterization is concerned.

Acacia: The War with the Mein showed great promise. Unfortunately, poor characterization makes it impossible for this novel to fulfill its full potential.

The final verdict: 6.75/10

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9 commentaires:

Shane said...

Good review. This book really felt like "A Song of Ice and Fire: LITE" to me. I enjoyed it and didn't all at once.

Matt said...

A fair assessment, Pat. I agree. The overall world and some of the set pieces are compelling, but I also had a hard time with the characters. And I would disagree with you regarding some of Durham's prose. Why the long paragraphs talking about people talking?! Is dialogue so hard to write?

RobB said...

Wow, things are going to hell. Another book we don't agree on Pat.

The same can be said of Keck's book, which I recently finished and will be posting a review of tomorrow.

Myshkin said...

I agree with matt: one of my major problems with this book was the dialog, or lack thereof. Instead of giving us dialog Mr. Durham simply told us what was being said.

I agree that this book showed a lot of promise but, imo, it failed to deliver. The characterization was poor, the prose was overly florid, and certain aspects of the world just didn't make sense. I'll probably still read the second book when it comes out, but I definitely will not be paying for it in hardcover.

Larry said...

I think it won't surprise you to know that I disagree with your comments on the characters. I found them to be more more well-rounded than what your brief commentary on them might indicate. In particular, I think the eldest daughter, Corinn, is a fascinating character. She tries to be the "best," the most "feminine," and the subtle ways that Durham goes about showing this desire and how the consequences of the actions done due to this lead to a darker character turn to be promising. Your review does not touch upon this at all. Or what about the changes that exile has caused in Aliver's personality and his viewpoints?

I wish you could have addressed these in your review, as I think one could make a case, using the textual evidence, that Durham does a much better job with developing the characters than what your comments would suggest. But then again, what's "good" for one might be "bad" for another, although even then, a reasoned response ought to be illuminating :D

Patrick said...

For Christ's sake, Rob. What is this world coming to!?!:p

Regarding Keck, are you talking about IN A TIME OF TREASON? I got that one waiting in my "books to read" pile...

Paul D said...

Pat, question about your reviews. How do you come up with a numerical review? 6.75 seems like a really strange number to give, and it almost implies a degree of accuracy that most reviews don't have.

Anonymous said...

Pat! This is way off topic and feel free to delete, but - have you seen the Sanderson news over at Dragonmount.com?

Anonymous said...

I agree with both Matt and Myshkin about the dialogue or lack thereof. Another thing that irked me was the nearly complete lack of physical description for the first third of the book, sure, he did tell us the hair color, but that was about it (and I know I am not the only one who noticed this as I was reading it alongside a friend who noticed the same thing).

The characters were bad for the first third, I couldn't stand a single one of them, then they got better in the second bit, then they plunged right down the crapper in the third.

... and I am just going to stop there before I start ranting on Aliver's perplexing ability to be a wonderful swordsman towards the end, despite being subpar at the beginning of the novel and not touching one throughout his exile.