The Curse on the Chosen (Song of the Tears) by Ian Irvine

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The Curse on the Chosen (Song of the Tears) by Ian Irvine

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Our gallant heroes have a lot on their hands in trying to kill the God-Emperor of the world. We have a lot on our hands in trying to fathom it all out.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 688 Date: November 2007
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841494708

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This book opens with our gallant heroes and heroine sharing a cave with the main baddie. This can only mean the first book in the series ended on a nice cliff-hanger, and that I shouldn't read on with much hope that this volume would feature nice rounded closure.

The goodies are Nish, the son of the evil God-Emperor Jal-Nish, who is waiting at the cave mouth for his transport to take them all away, and Maelys, the heroine. She's had a chequered past in this series, as with them is Xervish Flydd, who has just lost all his magical ability when needed most, by doing Maelys's bidding. Completing the gang are the giant Zham, and the warrior Colm. Jal-Nish wants a dynasty to be built after him by his son, while Nish, like the rest, wants just to be able to kill his father.

Not everybody in the cave will survive the opening action scene of the book, and the party is split with threatening consequences. Luckily Jal-Nish is not alone as powerful, magical baddie in this series, and there are protagonists enough to go round and put everyone in danger.

What follows for the first third of the book at least is a couple of days in the life of our heroes, told in very up-close detail, with lots of everyone's thoughts and tiniest minutiae narrated to us. A lot of it regards Maelys and her personal struggles with baddies, beasties and whatnot, while Xervish has a hard time recuperating his magic skills, even when a mysterious woman in red enters his mind with what might be hints or hindrance.

I don't know how well the first book goes to explain the world this story is set in, but a lot of this takes place in an implausible warren of tunnels and caverns inside a mountain, and a lot involves recharging crystals and storing the magical energy from mysterious fires emerging from the centre of the world. When magical abilities are restored a lot of force-fields and whatnot are involved, but however close-in the narrator focuses I found a lot of it all very hard to imagine. There was a lot of the urgency of the various quests and fights lost in the heavy detailing, and a lot of it I failed to draw a successful mental image of.

Other sections relate to books even further removed in Ian Irvine's output than this volume's prequel, as two earlier quartets are referred to in searches of alien artefacts, and the escape to and from other worlds - where again I failed to gather if these are different dimensions on the same planet, or different locations completely, or what. However there was a much greater scope to the fantasy, featuring the hoped-for cast of thousands and action in a unique setting, before a more intimate ending that bore too much similarity to a whodunit conclusion. Needless to say the middle section was the one to shore up this book's Bookbag rating.

It can only go down as a disappointment that a creation so well realised, and seemingly well sustained through twelve (or will it become fourteen?) books, is written in a style I failed to engage with. There are enough elements in the world - the baddie with his stash of most of the magic Art in the world, control over lots of wizardy people and lots of flying critters, unusual locations and mystery over who is on whose side - to make for a good, solid fantasy series. And obviously that is what this book is part of for many fans, who will relish the long-standing revelations given to us all towards the end, but for me, entering the cycle at this late point, there were problems with the unexplained (even with a glossary at the back), the ill-defined, and the poorly depicted.

I am sure other readers of fantasy will just want to knock some sense into me, and say how the reader benefits from having more scope to picture everything for themselves, but I was struggling too far with the scale of the flames, the size and scope of the magical constructs (even if everything is given a size in spans or ells) and too much else to fully relax and enjoy the book. While there were redeeming features - with the up-close motivation and several story arcs and characters all handled relatively well, the style I feel is too divisive to make this a book to recommend. And no reader should ever intend to start the cycle at this point.

I would still like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag to sample.

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