Thursday, 17 May 2012

REVIEW: The Redemption Of Althalus

 The Redemption Of Althalus is a standalone high fantasy epic by David and Leigh Eddings.

The following review may contain spoilers, which have been blacked out  for your protection. Just highlight them to read!

For someone who has built their career and reputation on being the world's luckiest thief, a seemingly endless string of misfortune is a devastating blow. Just as things couldn't be looking worse for Althalus, he is offered a high-paying job to steal a book from a house at the end of the world. Though he doesn't know what a book is, he sets off to steal it anyway. When he arrives, he is met with a talking cat who scolds him for being late and brings him into her plans to save the world.

I really, desperately wanted to love this book, but it just failed in a few crucial areas, not the least of which being 'entertaining the reader'. It started out marvellously, but once the plot got going, it quickly became slow and difficult to persevere through. Though I did care for the titular character, I found nearly every single other character unrelatable and unremarkable. The plot itself could have been quite interesting, had it been handled better.

Throughout the book's lengthy introduction, I was having fun reading it. The first parts were an absolute pleasure. Althalus is established as charismatic and pretty damn funny, so he's easy to sympathise with, even though he's an unashamed thief. I would have gladly read a whole book about his thief-y antics. 

My issues lie with everything that happened after the beginning. After a wonderful beginning, it took me a while to realise why I was suddenly taking so long to get through page after page. It didn't even occur to me until I was close to finishing the book that I'd grown very, very bored.

I believe the reason for that is that I was constantly waiting for something big to happen, for the immense buildup to pay off. I was waiting to see how the team of antagonists would be able to use their own set of doors and their own book against the heroes and their set. I was waiting for something fantastic. Believe me, something amazing could have been figured out with all of the powers in this book. I loved the concept of the House and its doors, but it never led anywhere. I guess you have to be a special kind of writer to make unrestricted time- and space-travel work for you. Most of the time I read or watch anything involving these ideas, I'm hugely let down (there are notable exceptions).

Not only that, but there was no tension in the book. It consisted mostly of characters having ideas, explaining those ideas in detail, then executing them with only the smallest of hiccups. There was never a shadow of doubt that the protagonists would succeed, even when Eliar was blinded. The worst things that happened seemed like only minor speed bumps. When there's close to zero conflict and tension, things get really boring really quickly.

Having said that, I'd like to make it very clear that my complaints do not lie solely with the poor execution of the plot. I have major, major concerns about this novel's characters. My primary concern is that I could not give half a shit about the ones I was supposed to bond with. None of them felt like actual sapient beings with their own minds inside their own obligatorily attractive, heroic heads. They were pieces of cardboard. Pieces of heavily stereotyped and mildly offensive cardboard at that.

Why were they offensive, you ask? I take issue with the way everyone is so neatly pigeonholed. Dweia's Dream-Team of heroes are all hot, the girls on the Dream-Team even more so. Ghend and his Legion Of Evil Buddy Friends are all ugly, especially the sole female on their team, who is described more often by her wild appearance than anything else about her, including the fact that she's ruled a warrior nation for thousands of years. The overweight characters (all two of them) are shown to be lazy, gullible and unfit to rule.

Let's take a closer look at the way female characters are treated, specifically. I have a very clear picture in my head of what Andine, Leitha and Dweia look like. Andine is tiny and delicate with dark hair and a voice that could manipulate anyone. Leitha is tall, blonde and hot enough to be put to death for it. Dweia has luxurious red hair and is also pretty smashing. Now, there is nothing wrong with having hot characters. Really. It's not a sin. You can have a pretty character. But how about we examine Gelta, the only female portrayed as evil? The authors go to great lengths to describe how hideous she is, really hammering it home to the reader. It's worrying that all of the good females are pretty, and the bad one is not.

But putting looks aside, I still have major issues. If we ignore the fact that Andine feels like a terrible, rehashed version of Ce'Nedra from the Belgariad/Mallorean series (who, incidentally, I really liked), her character is robbed of agency very quickly. She is introduced with all the fury of a tiger that has escaped from an illegal zoo and cornered its captors, which translates to a whole fucking lot of fury. She is, quite rightly, irate about her father's death and she intends to make the one responsible suffer. This, my dear reader, is reasonable characterisation.

Fast forward to her kidnapping and forcible addition to Dweia's Dream-Team. She settles down and accepts it really, really quickly. The other characters seem to find her continued hatred of Eliar to be childish and bratty. It was at this point that I realised that the two of them would definitely hook up, to my everlasting chagrin. But anyway, it was explained to Andine that Eliar was following orders. Nearly immediately, she practically forgot that he was the reason she was orphaned at fifteen and proceeded to fall head over heels in love with the guy, despite there being no legitimate connection between the two of them. It stressed me out even more that Dweia decided it was to be inevitable.

From that moment forward, every single aspect of her character was thrown out the window, most likely one of those windows in The House that looked onto the deep abyss. She seemed to exist solely to dote on and feed Eliar instead of remaining a person in her own right. Andine only really existed in relation to a male character which, unfortunately, is a really common pattern throughout fiction.

Now, I had planned to talk about my issues with Leitha at this point, but I'm so close to keymashing that I think it would be best if I left it to a short description. I feel like Leitha does nothing but titillate Bheid. A character that is treated as nothing more than their looks and sexuality is obviously an issue. 

Moving right along.

Gher was pretty cool. He seemed a bit like a plot device to help out the dumber characters at some points, but otherwise, no problems with him.

And I guess that's all I have to say. To summarise, The Redemption Of Althalus started off gloriously, but sank very far, very fast. There were glaring problems with characterisation and the plot was handled poorly. I wish I could say otherwise because I really wanted to be a fan of this book.

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