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The Riven Kingdom
This is a good example of Moral Dissonance at its height. Does every book set in a fantasy world really have to have a protagonist with modern values? Coming hot on the heels of Hekat in Empress, whom Miller really made come to some sort of self-awareness through struggle and end up a convincing product of her society, Rhian's opinions are simply handwaved. Nothing is done to really show her coming to an awareness of feminism in a paternalistic culture. There are no women in high places (except an abbess) to set an example. Mijak at least has female warriors, so there was a convincing reason for Hekat to become a soldier.

Authors in modern fantasy fiction are obviously striving to include strong female characters. However, some either fail to make gender a non-issue and to give them more subtle reasons for contesting a civil war, or give that character no visible way of coming to the realisation that they are regarded as a second-class citizen and earn their position. Rhian goes too quickly from princess to queen and comes across as a 21st century westerner dumped into Swordsandsorceryland - which makes the plot very boring because we don't see, unlike with Hekat, how she really challenges the men around her to take her seriously in the first place. Just because is not a good enough reason for a character to be completely at odds with their society's values. Why did Eberg educate her beyond her station when he had two perfectly good sons? I have no problem with this concept - maybe he foresaw their premature deaths in the same way that Dexterity received his visions - but it needs to be made clear.

Marlan is too transparent a character to exist either. As written, he is one-dimensionally evil and that makes his story just as boring as Rhian's; again, we don't see his journey either, particularly why he is a priest that doesn't believe in God. That would have been a book in its own right.

A very disappointing continuation to the excellence of Empress and although it is a good quick read, it really is just a 'There and Back Again' story with a bit of convenient deus ex machina at the end. I had high hopes after Empress but now can't really be bothered to finish it.
I think you hit the nail on the head here, and you adress a few issues that I didn't have space for in my own review. There is so much in these books (not just character motivations) that could have been fleshed out more, so why Karen Miller didn't devote some pages to that instead of endless repetetive conversations, I'll never understand. I called Mijak "a triumph of worldbuilding" because it's a very unusual setting, but it's still rather shallow. Apart from the fact that it once ruled the world (which was so long ago that the other countries don't even remember it... really?) it apparently has no other history. Ethrea was even worse: how does a small island country with no army come into being? How does it retain its independence?

Hammer of God is even worse than The Riven Kingdom. The storyline basically comes to a grinding halt for about 600 pages before wrapping up very quickly. I think the story might have been better had The Riven Kingdom and Hammer of God been condensed into one book.
comment #16844 Albertosaurus 12th Nov 12
Thanks for your comments. I love fleshing out my world's politics in my own work and sometimes go overboard the other way. I agonised for a long time over how to write the beginning of my novel so my main character ends up in his new situation realistically and not 'OK, a funny thing happened on the way to...'.

I've decided not to bother reading Hammer of God at all. I can see what happens from the first two books. Contrast this with the superb Hunger Games trilogy; I know it's for kids and I'm in my thirties, but I consumed all three books in a single weekend and, although I wanted to know more about the other districts in Panem, the conclusion actually made my heart lurch in shock - literally. A good book should be felt. This was just...going through the standard fantasy motions, though given that I dwell on the icky situations in life in my own (as yet unpublished) books, I find it comforting that modern fiction pulls very few punches in what can be depicted.

So I guess this was useful research.
comment #16998 Crowqueen 28th Nov 12
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