Monday, July 10, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Mortal Tally (Bring Down Heaven #2)

I reviewed The City Stained Red last month and was very much looking forward to the sequel.  The First book featured a fun group of great characters - basically your standard adventuring party but developed far better in a cynical world (Dragonman Tank, Squishy Child Wizard, Priestess Healer, Human Rogue/Thief, Elf Rogue/Archer, Human Fighter), but had a plot that wasn't very satisfying.  Again, the characters were great pretty much so I was looking forward to seeing the second book, which would at worst (I though) continue telling tales with characters I enjoyed and at best would move forward with the plot in an interesting way.

Unfortunately, this book kind of manages to underperform my lowest possible expectations, which made it kind of a chore to read.

Long Review continues after the Jump (Minor Spoilers for The City Stained Red)

---------------------------------Plot Summary------------------------------
Again, this series follows a former party of adventurers ala a tabletop RPG Group:
Lenk, the leader and fighter who wishes he could stop killing;
Denaos, thief/thug on the run from his murderous past;
Asper, a Priestess of a healing god who carries a deadly curse in her arm; Dreadaeleon, a kid who is also a powerful wizard with issues of dealing with other people;
Gariath, the last dragonman of his kind, who hates humans with a passion;&
Kataria, Lenk's humanoid but not human Shict lover who fears she has lost her people by being with the humans.

After Book 1, the party has separated - Lenk, Kataria and Gariath are out of the City of Cier'Djaal- Lenk is on a journey with a group trying to prevent the resurrection of an ancient demon....but has that very same demon in his head whispering promises; Kataria is along with Lenk but harbors a new love for her fellow Shict Kwar and who is torn between her two loves; & Gariath is with another nonhuman trying to convince a group of nonhumans to rise up and kil the humans of the City.
Meanwhile, Asper, Denaos and Dreadaeleon are in the City, which is now caught between warring religous factions and the destruction caused by a demon worshipping cult, with Asper trying to save as many people as possible, Denaos trying to help his old group of thieves/assassins regain control over the town; and Draedaeleon trying to simply be together with the whore he fell in love within the first book while avoiding the fellow wizards who want him for treason to their order.

The problem is that this book is that all of these six characters essentially have six different plots, most of which do not intersect at all. The end result is a book that feels basically both too long and too short.  It's too long in that some of these plotlines aren't interesting at all or feel totally superfluous - for example, Dread's plotline could be totally excised from this book and it wouldn't affect anything whatsoever.

The book feels too short in that it takes the entire book to get to a plot point that is pretty clearly inevitable after Book 1.  This is the worst type of pacing - in a way it reminds me of A Gathering of Shadows which had the same problem - if you have teased that an event is GOING TO HAPPEN in a story, you can't have that event happening be the cliffhanger ending. It cheats the reader and makes the whole plotline feel pointlessly slow.

But that's not even the biggest problem - the biggest problem is that the story takes several of the main characters and makes them downright unlikable.  In particular, our main character, Lenk just takes a downright assholish turn in the middle of the book that makes following him just painful (and that's not even including the fact that he's falling for the lies of a demon whispering in his ear throughout the story).

Dread's story is also painful to read because Dread is basically an asshole, and while that's more-actually intended by the author, it becomes painful when Dread's story doesn't actually have any impact whatsoever on the story.  Dread undergoes basically no character development and none of his actions have any impact on the wider plot.

The book isn't all bad, Asper and Denaos' plots are certainly interesting, as are Kataria's and Gariath's (well, Kataria once she leaves Lenk).  But around a 1/3 of a 600 page book, if not more since Lenk gets the most screentime, is irritating due to the characters being unlikable and pacing issues.  I suspect I'll read the third book when it comes out at the end of this year just to see if the ending redeems itself.

But well, I can no longer recommend this series wholeheartedly as I did after reading The City Stained Red.  And that's a shame.

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