Mazes of Power

Labeled as a thoughtful work of sociological science fiction, Juliette Wade's debut novel scared me a little. Indeed, this is usually the sort of book that appeals to critics but puts the bulk of SFF fans to sleep. Advance blurbs mentioned that Mazes of Power featured phenomenal worldbuilding, so I finally decided to give it a shot.

And what a mistake it turned out to be. Mazes of Power is one of the most boring novels I have ever read. I wanted to quit early on, that goes without saying. But I had already announced that I was reading the book on Goodreads, so I elected to persevere, hoping that it would get better. Alas, it didn't. . .

Here's the blurb:

This debut work of sociological science fiction follows a deadly battle for succession, where brother is pitted against brother in a singular chance to win power and influence for their family.

The cavern city of Pelismara has stood for a thousand years. The Great Families of the nobility cling to the myths of their golden age while the city’s technology wanes.

When a fever strikes, and the Eminence dies, seventeen-year-old Tagaret is pushed to represent his Family in the competition for Heir to the Throne. To win would give him the power to rescue his mother from his abusive father, and marry the girl he loves.

But the struggle for power distorts everything in this highly stratified society, and the fever is still loose among the inbred, susceptible nobles. Tagaret’s sociopathic younger brother, Nekantor, is obsessed with their family’s success. Nekantor is willing to exploit Tagaret, his mother, and her new servant Aloran to defeat their opponents.

Can he be stopped? Should he be stopped? And will they recognize themselves after the struggle has changed them?

When I think about complex and phenomenal worldbuilding, names of science fiction authors such as Peter F. Hamilton, N. K. Jemisin, James S. A. Corey, Kameron Hurley, and Alastair Reynolds come to mind. Understandably, given the advance praise, I was expecting something more than a society living underground with a technological level that often appears to be straight out of the 80s. In addition, nothing is truly elaborated on. Why are they living in cavern cities? Why is their society so highly stratified? Why is their technological level so low? Why is there such a weird battle for succession? Yada yada yada. This is not cool worldbuilding. This is not convoluted political intrigue. It's just an author offering basically no information to answer any of the questions raised by the concepts and ideas she came up with.

Another odd thing was the homosexual tendencies of a number of male characters. Nothing wrong with that, of course. I wondered if this was a world in which same-sex relationships were an accepted norm, only to find out that it's a big taboo. This left me quite confused at times, especially given the fact that the main protagonist is hopelessly in love with a girl. Once again, no light was shed by the author regarding this aspect of the tale. The emancipation of women in a decidedly patriarchal society appears to be one of the themes Juliette Wade wanted to explore in this series. And yet, for some reason, all the POV characters are male and we never get a female perspective.

There is no way to sugarcoat this, I'm afraid. The characterization is absolutely awful. The main protagonist, Tagaret, is thoroughly emo and extremely boring. To see events unfold through his eyes was pure torture at times. His younger brother, Nekantor, is the antagonist of the story. Ambitious and dealing with a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, he's the opposite of his sibling. Not as well-drawn as Tagaret, it often feels as though he's a caricature of sorts. Along with his father, some kind of hybrid between a calculating politician, an alcoholic dad from the 60s, and a Neanderthal, both characters actually growl in pretty much all of their scenes. I kid you not. Aloran was probably the most interesting protagonist of the bunch. But like Tagaret, he was way too emo to be believable. I would have liked to discover more about the Imbati culture and why they accept their role as servants without rebelling. Tamelera, the boys' mother, had the makings of a compelling character, yet the author did not see fit to give her a point of view. In addition, I would have liked to learn more about Della and her family, what with the fact that she is Tagaret's love interest. But again, we are left with more questions and few answers.

Juliette Wade is evidently one of those writers who are loath to use profanities in their stories. Nothing wrong with that. But if you decide to replace common obscenities with made-up ones, you should at least endeavor to make them good. In Mazes of Power, Wade replaced the f-word with gnash. Gnash it. Gnash this. Gnash him. Gnash that. And so on and so forth. I mean, this is worse than Brandon Sanderson! Why the author didn't go for safe and acceptable oaths instead of making up such a lame one, I'll never know. But it made me grit my teeth every time someone swore in the novel.

The pace can be quite uneven. At times the rhythm is fluid, yet there are some portions in which the pacing was decidedly slow-moving. My main gripe is that very little actually happens throughout the book. There are a few interesting bits from time to time, but overall the plotlines and the characters totally failed to capture my imagination and pull me in. This is the first volume in The Broken Trust series, which means that there will be sequels. However, can't for the life of me see myself considering reading the next installment. Going through Mazes of Power was a chore from the very beginning and it took me about a month to finish. I'm not going through such an ordeal again.

It's obvious that Juliette Wade's sociological science fiction is not for me.

The final verdict: 3/10

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2 commentaires:

Oregon Dan said...

sounds like a future Hugo nominee....

S.Kapriniotis said...

My time is precious. Thank you Pat for wasting yours to save ours. Seriously, thank you.