As you know, I feel like a complete idiot for having waited for so long to finally give Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel novels a shot. Now that I've read and fell in love with the first two trilogies, I was getting ready to start the third series. But when I learned that she had a stand-alone book titled Starless getting published this spring, I elected to read that one instead.

Understandably, I had high hopes for this one. And although Starless begins in a way that makes it impossible to put down, sadly the plot sags in the middle and peters out toward an ending that did not quite live up to my lofty expectations. I'm not sure what happened along the way. From the get-go until Khai leaves the Fortress of the Winds and the desert behind, this novel is as good and engrossing as anything I've read from Carey. So much so that I believed that Starless would be the fantasy title of the year. Then things gradually took a turn for the worse and the book never truly recovered afterward. Which is a shame, for it's been a long time since I was hooked to such a degree by the first few chapters of a novel.

Here's the blurb:

Jacqueline Carey is back with an amazing adventure not seen since her New York Times bestselling Kushiel’s Legacy series. Lush and sensual, Starless introduces us to an epic world where exiled gods live among us, and a hero whose journey will resonate long after the last page is turned.

Let your mind be like the eye of the hawk…Destined from birth to serve as protector of the princess Zariya, Khai is trained in the arts of killing and stealth by a warrior sect in the deep desert; yet there is one profound truth that has been withheld from him.

In the court of the Sun-Blessed, Khai must learn to navigate deadly intrigue and his own conflicted identity…but in the far reaches of the western seas, the dark god Miasmus is rising, intent on nothing less than wholesale destruction.

If Khai is to keep his soul’s twin Zariya alive, their only hope lies with an unlikely crew of prophecy-seekers on a journey that will take them farther beneath the starless skies than anyone can imagine.

I've said it a hundred times: Jacqueline Carey's worldbuilding has always been amazing. Unfortunately, I feel that the author never received the respect she deserves in that regard. With each new book, she took us on fabulous journeys that enabled readers to discover more about her Kushiel universe and she never disappointed in doing so. Richly detailed and imagined in terms of cultures, religions, and politics, these works were textured and sophisticated novels that hit all the right buttons. Given that Starless was a stand-alone book, I figured that it wouldn't be as dense and sprawling as most of the Kushiel installments. And yet, early on Carey's worldbuilding shines again. Her depiction of life in the desert and the Fortress of the Winds was particularly well-done. The author perfectly captured the unforgiving nature of that environment, and Khai's early years and training made for a fascinating read. The Middle Eastern/Islamic setting was a welcome change from the the traditional European medieval analog. Her depiction of the city of Merabaht and the House of the Ageless and the court of the Sun-Blessed was also interesting. However, the web of murder and political intrigue that Carey wove through this novel was not as shocking as the politicking she accustomed us to in previous works. It's hard to tell if initially this was meant to be a two-installment sequence, for the subsequent journey across the currents felt incredibly rushed compared to the rest of the book. Hence, her depiction of Papa-ka-hondras and the other countries/islands visited during their quest felt cursory at best. A world away from the wonderful worldbuilding skills Carey demonstrated during the great expeditions of the Kushiel books. The same goes for the fallen gods and goddesses, whose histories and personalities were not as well-drawn as I would have liked.

The tale is told from the first person narrative of Khai. Given up as a baby to be raised and trained by the Brotherhood of Pahrkun to become Princess Zariya's shadow, this young warrior's perspective is that of a deeply flawed individual that has been betrayed by those he trusted the most. And though characterization has always been a facet in which the author usually excels, the introduction of Zariya essentially killed the story for me. Khai, who up until that point was a captivating protagonist, becomes a lovesick puppy as soon as they are introduced and remains so for the duration of the novel. It's been a while since I came across a character I found this annoying. The more so because Khai is never the same afterward. My dear, dearest, my heart, my love, yada yada yada. Zariya cannot speak to anyone without using such terms of endearment and this gets old real fast. Hence, from the moment Khai and Zariya met in the Palace of the Sun, Starless lost most of what had made it a compelling read. And since the princess' storyline lies at the heart of the plot, it made it impossible for me to get over that. Thankfully, Jacqueline Carey has a knack for creating engaging and memorable secondary characters, and once again she came up with a good cast. Chief among them Brother Yarit, Vironesh, Jahno the Seeker, and Brother Saan. In their own way, they have all left their mark on this novel. Kudos to Carey for tackling the transgender issue and doing it well.

Pace was never really an issue throughout Starless, but there is no denying that the last portion of the novel, the one focusing on the heroes' journey to save the world, felt quite rushed at times. The rhythm pertaining to the first part, the one focusing on Khai's training, was slower and covered several years. As a result, you got to know Khai and his fellow members of the Brotherhood of Pahrkun a lot more than the rest of the characters we meet later in the book. The desert truly came alive and that portion of the plot was head and shoulders above the rest of the novel in terms of quality and originality.

I often complain that works are sometimes too long, that they would have been better if a number of chapters had been excised. On the contrary, I felt that Starless probably would have benefited from a longer pagecount. Weighing in at 592 pages, it's already a big book, true. And yet, the final journey felt too rushed, the locales visited and their people not richly depicted enough, for the endgame and finale to be as memorable as they could have been.

For a while, it felt as though Starless would be the fantasy book to read in 2018. Unfortunately, as the story progressed it failed to live up to that potential. Hence, what could have been a great work turned out to be merely a good one. For many readers, that will be enough. But I can't help but feel a bit disappointed. . .

The final verdict: 7/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

2 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

What's that about the transgender thing??

Patrick said...

No spoilers! ;-)