Reviews: The Sundering

Wasted Potential

In a world threatened by the Shaper Satoris Banewreaker and his three lieutenants, General Tanaros Caveros the Kingslayer, Vorax the Glutton, and Ushahin Dreamspinner, the only hope for the Ellylon to reverse Satoris' World Sundering and be reunited with their Shaper Haomane is to fulfill Haomane's prophecy that leads to Satoris' death. But is Satoris and his henchmen really all that evil? Is he really the one responsible for the World Sundering? Who is the liar here, Satoris, or Haomane? And so begins a tragedy wrought from lies, misunderstanding, and disbelief.

To put it bluntly, The Sundering is basically a Tolkien-inspired Sympathetic POV Perspective Flip. Many of the characters fill roles similar to those in The Lord Of The Rings. Although this is not a bad thing, since the characters are unique and what they actually do or where they end up with those roles is vastly different than their Tolkien counterparts.

The story starts off strong; a fast-paced narrative that explains the universe even as the plot moves along, providing a healthy amount of Foreshadowing that makes you want to read further. There is also this pervading theme in the narrative that things are not as they seem. However, there are problems. For one thing, the series falls into the same methodology that it is trying to deconstruct: we see the supposed "Big Bad" Satoris as a character, but not "Big Good" Haomane, meaning we still get only one side of the story. But the biggest problem lies in the conclusion, the second half of the second book, which never delivers the payoff to all of the set-up Foreshadowing. The reader only gets glimpses of characters' Backstories instead of the whole story, and characters are told that there is a greater destiny at work, but it is never explained to the reader. Instead, things happen, people die, and that's it. I know that some writers like to leave things open-ended for the reader to make their own opinions on, but if that was truly the author's intention, I do not think it was appropriate for this particular series.

Mixed feelings

In The Sundering, Jacqueline Carey presents a story very close to The Lord Of The Rings (with apparently elements from The Silmarillion also tossed in, but I've never read that book so I can't comment on that), but told from the villains' point of view. This is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

The dark overlord and his minions are our heroes in this book and Carey does a good job of making us care for these people, providing a rationale for actions that might mae them look villainous otherwise. We're also given an actual justification for his imposing fortress and perpetually darkened country.

The forces of light, however, are so dull that it's actually a chore to read about them, especially Dani the water-bearer (our Frodo equivalent). I do realize that the contrast between the two sets of characters is the whole point, but why do they have to be so boring to read about?

Another problem is the story's extreme similarity to LotR. Once again, I know that this is the point, but occasionally it skews a little too close. None of the characters ever become characters in their own right. I was always asking myself "Who's this guy an analogue to?" and "To what event from Lot R did this event correspond?" If Carey had diverged just a little more, perhaps the tale would have been a little more vibrant.