Saturday 19 December 2009

Comment: The Stormcaller

I don't tend to buy many books these days, since I'm in the fortunate position of mostly having them sent to me by publishers for review. So when I do buy a book, it is for one of two reasons - because I've heard very good things about it, or because the blurb appeals to me. 

The Stormcaller is an anomaly in that I didn't purchase it for either of the above reasons. Instead, I bought it pretty much entirely because it was published by Gollancz. This wasn't anything to do with some sort of brand loyalty, but rather because in the year The Stormcaller was published (2006) Gollancz had published two very successful debuts in the shape of The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself (what a vintage year 2006 was for fantasy debuts!).  

Since I'd loved Lynch's debut and enjoyed Abercrombie's, I figured (perhaps rather naively) that Tom Lloyd's debut would be of a similar sort of quality. It was with some serious disappointment, then, that I only made it about 100 pages into The Stormcaller before abandoning it. 

I always had a nagging doubt at the back of my mind that perhaps I'd been a little hasty - that possibly it was a case of 'right book, wrong time' (I don't know about anyone else, but I go through different reading 'moods' that sometimes means I end up putting a book down not because I don't like it, but because it's not what I want to read at that moment in time). As the months and then years passed, I gradually decided that maybe The Stormcaller deserved another attempt. My mind was then made up when Jeff wrote a review in which he admitted he'd also put the book down at first, but then gave it a second go and found that it really worked for him. 

So I did the same, wondering whether I'd have a similar experience to Jeff. 

At first, I did. As I zipped through the first few chapters, the overriding thought in my mind was "Why the hell didn't this work for me last time?" The same issues that forced me to abandon my initial attempt were still present and correct, but they didn't bother me nearly as much. I found myself investing in the story more. I liked the prose - definitely one of the novel's strong points. With one or two misgivings, I liked the world and the sense of history that pervaded it (sure, not evoked as well as, say, Erikson does it, but then who really does it like him?). So for a while I was pleased to be enjoying a novel I almost missed out on. 

Then it all went - as we say in the UK - Pete Tong

Since I didn't finish the novel (still had just over 100 pages to go) I can't write a proper review as such, but I can give my thoughts on why the book didn't work for me (then again...isn't that still a review? Ah well. Just remember when reading my thoughts that they're based purely on the first 3/4 of the book).

Sorry, this is totally off-topic for a moment...but what a brilliant album Finelines is, by My Vitriol. I bought it years ago when it was released, but only recently have I really come to appreciate how fantastic it is. Check out the video for the single Always Your Way here. What a stonking riff...

Right, back on topic. So yeah, The Stormcaller... I had a couple of  issues with this book that unfortunately made me put it down.

i) The protagonist, Isak. To put it bluntly, I couldn't give a toss about him. I'm guessing the angle Lloyd was coming from was the 'young man struggling with the burden of both his new found power and responsibility', but in reality said young man (Isak) coped rather too easily with this for the most part, which struck me as unrealistic. I also found him to be rather shallow emotionally - his emotional response (or rather, total lack thereof) to killing a man for the first time was utterly unconvincing. I felt Isak's own storyline lacked tension - he's basically a rock-hard killing machine in magic armour, so the chance of anything so much as laying a finger on him always seemed slim (can't speak for the last 100 pages, since I didn't read them, but he never seemed in that much danger for the larger portion of the novel). I guess as a White-Eye, killing and the I-don't-give-a-shit attitude are perfectly normal character traits, but for me it just made Isak both unlikable and uninteresting.

ii) The politics and history of the world, which in my opinion were well developed but poorly executed. Time and time again Lloyd made casual remarks to complex political relationships involving factions that hadn't previously been mentioned. I had to re-read certain paragraphs several times before I felt that I understood who the different factions were and why they were fighting each other. Similarly, Lloyd frequently made references to various figures from the world's history, and I'd find myself thinking "Um, I recognise the name...but can't remember who the hell they are or what they did." Perhaps this is just me and subsequently other readers might not struggle like I did, but personally I felt Lloyd could have handled all this exposition better. A glossary/cast list would have been invaluable (all we have is a map that only makes things even more confusing).

Those were the two aspects that killed the book for me, though there were other minor issues (the odd bit of suspect characterisation, for example - I found Tila to be unconvincing and illogical). It's a shame really, because I really liked the prose, thought some of the characters were done well, and overall quite liked Lloyd's world.

Unfortunately though, this book just didn't work for me. I would encourage readers to try it though, as I suspect it's one of these novels that completely divides opinion. It's not a bad book by any means, just one that perhaps is tailored (probably unintentionally) to specific tastes. 


Todd Newton said...

Very weird, because I've started to re-read it myself (3rd attempt) in the past month. Not actively trying or anything, just something on the nightstand to crack open a few minutes before falling asleep.

This time, after I got through the dreadful first chapter, I found the prose and whatnot growing on me. I said to myself, "this isn't so bad, definitely not as bad as I remember." Then I got to the section where Bahl gets Isak's "gifts" and they throw around more names and infodump than rationally acceptable.

Just feels like they really took a chance with this one, didn't edit it well enough, and it's just a slog to read.

ediFanoB said...

I read the book last month. I liked it and it worked well for me. It is not my 2009 top read but I look forward to read the next one in the series.
I agree that it is one of these books which you either like or not. There is nothing between.
James, you are not the only one with different reading moods. I know this very well. Every book needs its mood. It doesn't matter how good a book is: If you read it in the wrong mood at the wrong time you will not finish it.

D-man said...

I also couldn't get through this one. I was surprised that the book garnered numerous positive reviews prior to its release... I suspect it might have been part of the initial marketing volley, but who's to say.

Agree with T.D. Newton in that the book could have used better editing. It could also have done with a touch of creative direction as nothing "new" really jumped out at me in the 200-odd pages that I read.

The story might right itself in the second half of the book, and in the subsequent volumes, but there are so many better reads out there that I don't suspect I'll be giving Lloyd another chance anytime soon.

Dan Smyth said...

I just bailed on this one as well. Writing was decent, info-dumps galore, but I think it was really all the head-skipping that just killed it for me. Gave it my customary 10% and then said, enough. Although, from people that have finished the book, I've heard really good things. So I'll probably give the author another go after he's written a few more books.