Thursday, December 24, 2009

What is he doing?!

I completed Michael A. Stackpole's Talion: Revenant this morning. What is Stackpole doing? Granted, I've never read anything by him before, but this particular world and story was entertaining enough to have been, long since, revisited. I looked around on sf&f sites and wikipedia and found...nothing. Surprising, because it was quite fun.

Talion: Revenant (mmpb)
Michael A. Stackpole
Bantam Spectra, 1997
ISBN: 0-553-57656-9

Book Blurb: Justices - the select of the Talion, endowed with fearsome magick and lethal martial skills - roam the Shattered Empire, crushing the lawless and championing the oppressed. Their word is law and their judgement binding on the highborn and low.

Nolan is a Justice born in what once was the free nation of Sinjaria. Orphaned in the war of conquest with the nation of Hamis, he traveled to far Talianna and secured the right to become a Justice. Now, years later, the Master of all Talions has a dangerous assignment for Nolan: he is to guard the life of the king who destroyed Sinjaria and slaughtered his family. Alone, Nolan ventures into the political maelstrom that is the court of Hamis to stop an assassin even his Masters think cannot be slain...




Fair Warning: This story has the single POV of the protagonist. The story follows alternating chapters of present circumstances and past pivotal experiences. As the story unfolds, the reader becomes familiar with how the protagonist came to be who and what he is. For me, the protagonist was similar to (although written well before) Carol Berg's protagonist from the Rai-kirah series. The story can be described as cliched, or formulaic, but Stackpole does this well.

I disliked the story of the protagonist's love interest. It seems to me, she is a character whose tale is whimsically generated in order for her to be the tool of plot advancement the author needs her to be. I am being intentionally vague here, because I don't wish to spoil her description, what happens to her or what she means to the story's conclusion for future readers.

I also disliked how the story abandons the main plot from the first half of the book. The protagonist is, essentially, a medieval cop, prosecutor and judge all roled into the title of "Justice." The protagonist's quest is to bring a bandit who regularly recruits violent and sociopathic men to his gang, for the purposes of tyrannizing the countryside. After this main plot is abandoned, the bandit plays a minor role in helping the protagonist, essentially being demoted to plot advancement device. One can see how certain things were left dangling by the author, in order to later return to this world and expand upon them in other novels. I'm surprised that the author has not returned to this world in 25 years.

What I liked: Primarily, I liked the setting created by Stackpole. The Shattered Empire is a world in decline, as is the case with the crumbling of a broad and vast empire. Various nation-states have emerged to take on lives of their own. The Talions, the sole surviving legacy of the Empire, are a military and para-military organization that exists to maintain political stability and prevent the genesis of vast, territorial wars. This ultimately creates a need for covert conspiracies by those grasping for power, which becomes the main plot of the second half of the story.

I also liked the characters created by Stackpole. As previously mentioned, I did not like how they were always used, but the characters were well considered.

Ultimately, I liked resolutions to certain plot threads. Do the 'good guys' win? Yeah, but as with all things in life, there is a price to be paid. Was the cost of victory too high? That's entirely subjective. It's one of the truly glorious things about humanity. Each of us could read the tale and say either, "I could live with that," or, "Better him than me."

Meanwhile: I'm still reading Wolfe. I've finished Claw of the Conciliator and am into Sword of the Lictor in Severian of the Guild, Wolfe's omnibus edition of Book of the the New Sun.

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