|In Short:||Ambitious and well-written. If it weren’t for just that one thing…|
|Recommended:||Well… I don’t not recommend it, if you know what I’m saying.|
|“We’ve supposedly ruled them for years, but we’ve done nothing to help them, just left them in a state of poverty and ignorance. They have no schools, no doctors. We’ve let the most horrible superstitions exist. Did you know that they still practice a kind of human sacrifice?”|
Oh, I hate writing reviews like this one. Hate it. Would rather be doing just about anything else. Objectively, Isles of the Forsaken is fine -- thoughtful, interesting, and above all expertly crafted. And yet, I didn’t enjoy reading it. I mean, I wanted to like it. There was just one tiny aspect of the book that I couldn’t quite get past…
In a world not unlike nineteenth-century Britain, the ever-so-civilized Inning people are seeking to complete the expansion of their empire into the wild and untamed Isles of the Forsaken. The people of the Forsakens are known to have a special bond with the land, and ritual healers known as dhotamars serve the Isles by healing illness and injury through a strange and mystical blood-rite. But the two races native to the Isles are constantly at odds and the rule of law is largely unknown, so like any good Imperialists the Innings justify their planned invasion by asserting that of course it’s for the good of the people.
However, the Innings have not counted on the will and combined efforts of three people, each a rebel in his or her own way. Law student Nathaway Talley, youngest son of a prominent Inning family and brother of the hard-nosed admiral leading the invasion, chafes at his family’s expectations and journeys to the Isles hoping to lead the people there to a more peaceful and law-abiding existence -- but he can’t possibly imagine what waits for him there. Harg Ismol, a man of the Isles who has just completed a stint in the Inning Navy -- a rather unusual path for one of his background -- may be the only one with the aptitude and skill to defeat his former compatriots, but doing so will require him to make a profound sacrifice. And lovely young Spaeth Dobrin, created by a powerful dhotamar to take his place when he’s gone, attempts to defy her destiny and vows never to give dhota -- but her nature is to Heal and she may not have any choice, if she wishes to survive. While all of this is going on, the ancient gods of the Islands seem to be awakening, and they are not in a good mood. To put it mildly.
There’s a lot to like about this book. Really. As noted above, it’s beautifully written. It’s complex and ambitious in scope, which I always appreciate. Even better, it’s actually about something other than “The Vampire Gets Laid, Volume 10,000,” which, let’s just say, I’ve been seeing a lot of lately. (What it’s about is colonialism and its discontents, which has been done before, but it’s done pretty well here.) I liked Harg and Nathaway, and would gladly read a book entirely about either one of them. Hell, I even liked the evil military brother.
So what didn’t I like? In a word: SPAETH. I could not fracking STAND that useless twit. Spaeth was created by another dhotamar, Goth, because he was lonely and needed companionship. Oh, and sex, too. In fact, she asks both Harg and Nathaway “Would you like to have sex with me?” by way of introduction. She’s soft and cuddly and eminently fuckable, but she acts like a child -- her emotions drive pretty much every decision she makes, and she makes some doozies -- because although she has the body of a woman, she is a child, chronologically. Goth only made her fairly recently. (I’m not a particular fan of Goth, either, but fortunately he’s not in the book all that much.) Both Harg and Nathaway are well-enamored of her, which I can understand in Nat’s case, since he’s pretty much the very definition of “callow,” but I was rather disappointed in good old world-weary Harg. (In Harg’s defense, he does appear to move on by the end of the book… to a married woman, but by that point I was just like WHATEVER.)
I hate, hate, hate child-women in life and in fiction. It’s why I can’t stomach the Christine Feehan catalogue, it’s why I absolutely couldn’t cope with the otherwise divine Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books, and it’s what put me off Isles of the Forsaken in the end, despite the many other things the book has going for it. Like I said, I wanted to like it… but stupid, stupid Spaeth kept getting in my way.
So… am I actually giving Isles of the Forsaken a good bad review, or a bad good review? I don’t know. I can say that the book has plenty to recommend it. But Spaeth sucks. And that, I think, is it in a nutshell.
-- Kate Nagy