[ Book Review ] Tolkien Came and Took My Love Away

Banewreaker by Jacqueline Carey

When I marched up to the library shelf at the Ca-Ch section, I was ready. I was gonna grab myself something by the prolific Jaqueline Carey, and I was gonna find out what the fuss was about. The first Kushiel books were out, but here was another series, with properly artsy covers. I was going to read something by Carey, and by golly, I did.

The Banewrecker blurb hit all the right keywords. We have a banished, immortal general, scarred by the betrayals of his past and serving the dark lord. We have the kidnapping a elf-ish princess in an attempt to prevent a prophecy from coming to pass. And we have the book pointing its metaphorical finger and saying in a stage whisper, “They’re so gonna get together!”

Satoris: Imagine mixing Megamind's problems with Batman's personality.

The prologue, as a properly high-handed fantasy ought, opens up with an origin myth that explains the powers of all the seven gods (wisdom, love, abundance…):

“Satoris [the main character’s god], once called the Sower, was Third-Born at the juncture of the loins, and in the quickening of the flesh lay his gift.” (10)

Wait, waaaaait? The Satan-character of this story is the god of sex? Come again?

So you can appreciate why I went in expecting fantasy lite (read: romantic farce) with all the trappings of a fantastical world for the sake of an overblown romantic plot–and a few adventures as afterthoughts. Never really having looked into it, I’d decided Banewalker was going to be a bit like Anne Bishop-meets-Sharon-Shinn (neither of whose writings impress me much, but where’s a canary to go to get some luff?).

Well, so much for my assumptions.  

Instead, what I got was a face-full of epic-style yarn-weaving. It’s Tolkien-style high fantasy about the underdog with a hefty dose of gray-shade morality. The story itself was maddening in the best sense of the word. The characters were human enough to be dynamic, each with their own lives, loyalties and reasons for doing what they did.

Sartoris’ brother, the god of wisdom (and all things good and proper, according to his followers), is hell-bent on destroying Sartoris and everything under his power. At each turn, Satoris’ forces are faced with mounting odds, their plans failing as the forces of good begin their inevitable march towards the inevitable triumph of good over evil.

What made it even better (or perhaps worse) was that our heroes…weren’t. Not quite and not all the way. Many of the protagonists got themselves shoulder deep in some objectionable activities, ranging from enslaving people to their will to slaughtering innocents.

The potential for the romantic subplot I mentioned at the beginning is, indeed, still there, but muted. Our kidnapped lady is loyal to her human betrothed, and to her cause. There are no easy transformations there, and being good and kind isn’t enough in this book to overcome millennia of war.

It is a mark of strength for The Banewrecker that even after I finished the book, I had no sense of whether I could expect any of my favorite characters to survive in its sequel.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely.

But the story remains at a solid three not because of my expectations of luff-fluff or the pretty standard fare of the world-building, but because The Banewrecker made me sad. Not sad in the sense of typos, twisted grammar, and Mary Sues, but the gray narrative stretch of being unable to see any resolution at the end of the tunnel. The characters maneuvered, and in turn were maneuvered by each other into actions they would not have chosen otherwise.

The story, as I read finished it up around 6am, was steeped in a tired despair that dropped my mood even lower than the knowledge that I had to go to work that morning. I had no interest in finding out what was going to happen next. I was just glad this was done and I’d be moving on to something else.

I will not be getting the second Sundering book. That is why this is a three for me.

Full disclosure: I would give Lord of the Rings a three, too. Maybe a two. Reading that trilogy was a chore and I can honestly say I enjoyed Banewalker more.

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8 thoughts on “[ Book Review ] Tolkien Came and Took My Love Away

  1. I did notice LOTR is not for everyone 🙂

    And I am glad for another series with flawed heroes in it. What about the villains though? Are they memorable? Equally gray?

    • Well, the heroes (villains to the rest of the world) are properly honorable and misunderstood. The baddies (the men and elven-like creatures that have a special name but are pretty much just elves) come across as virtuously self-righteous at the beginning, but near the end, reveal a few admirable traits (at least, a few do). By the end of the book, only two key players on the side of “good” remain completely opaque and self-righteously annoying–the head god who’s after Satty (about whom we only know in hearsay), and the head god’s champion.

    • Worst of it is, they’re as self-righteous in this book as they’ve ever been. I hated the kidnapped princess lady person. Baaaah.

      Revisionist evil elves are fun. Traditional good ones are just boring.

  2. I read this book back in 8th grade, and made the mistake of reading it during study hall. I finished it, hardly able to see through my tears, with the entire class watching me. Yeaaah. A little too depressing for my poor teenage emotions, hahaha.

    • Have you ever tried Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice? That one had me bawling (safely at home, happily). And then there was the time when I read Of Mice and Men in one fell swoop.

      “Sweetie, are you okay?”
      “H-he’s d-d-dead!”
      “…do you want to talk about it?”
      “No!”
      “Okay then.”

  3. I understand your feelings about this novel, even though my reaction was 100% diametrically the opposite. I couldn’t wait to read The Sundering but I LOVE dark fiction. You have to like your fiction dark to enjoy this novel…

    But if you do like it that way, run right out and read it. This is a fantastic novel.

  4. Your positive points in the review were enough to make me think I need to read this one (character design, plot trajectory, etc). At least I will know not to expect an epic romance.

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