What I gleaned about the story: Two ancient wizards have fought for ages on opposite sides of some great conflict, and now, a young wizard in training is about to enter the fray, and he’ll probably upset the balance. Or something.
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Analysis: I think I understand why writers do this, (and a great many do) but when I’m reading and get deluged with the names of people, places, grand alliances, and fluffy white pets that I don’t know, it turns me cold. I don’t even know the people on the stage yet, and already I’m being asked to give a damn about the maps and histories in their heads? I get that the writer is trying to establish that this world has a history, and that it’s well thought out, and subtly nuanced, but I don’t care. For me, building a mental map of the world must start with here. Who is this guy standing in front of me and what is he all about? And once I have that kernel, I’m happy to start dropping things onto that solid ground and building out. But don’t ask me to pay attention to all those world-y details until I have a reason to keep reading.
Every world is full of geographies and histories, and the story-verse is full of worlds. If you want me to explore yours, you have to start by making me care about something (or hint: someone) in it. Only then will I care about the places and politics.
Analysis: I am not hard-wired to dislike prologues, but they are a distancing mechanism, so if I read one, i want it to be evident that it was necessary – that it conveyed some important event that will be crucial for my understanding later.
In this case, the prologue was labelled a “prelude,” but that same rule applies. And in this case, I found myself scratching my head at the end of it, wondering what the point was. Yes, I see that there are two sides to this struggle and that it goes back to ancient days, but that much could have been relayed at some point in the main story with a simple sentence like, “There were two sides to this struggle, and it went back to ancient days.”
But the real problem of prologues is that they paint a world and introduce characters who I invest time in meeting, but then I throw them away, because the story isn’t about them. So the message they deliver has to make that extra effort worth my while.
Kudos: There’s a scene in which the wizard-in-training is playing a board game with his master. It’s obviously a souped up enhancement of chess, and normally, I roll my eyes when we get to the “game that sounds suspiciously like chess,” but this time I didn’t. It included elements of dice rolling and roll playing, as well as a multi-layered board. It’s probably too complicated to be realistic, but I enjoyed the effort that was made to at least make it more than just chess.
Analysis: So I’ve met the main character (I’m assuming) but I’ve been shown nothing about him, other than the fact that his master can run circles around him on the not-chess board. And now, before seeing anything more that might create a question in my mind or that makes me curious about that guy, I’m dropped into another barrage of names and descriptions of terrain. So I repeat: I do not care where all the rocks are in your world or what they’re all called, and I won’t. Not until I’ve been given a reason to be curious about this place. All places have rocks, and all of them have names. But I’m here for the people and their problems, not the label matching game.
Note: Those WTF moments aside, the prose is very good here. The world seems detailed, and the history seems thorough. If those sorts of things appeal to you, then this might be one worth checking out. And did I mention that the cover is gorgeous? Well, it is.