Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sing the Midnight Stars by CMJ Wallace

This book is mis-advertised as a detective thriller. It certainly has aspects of that, but it is more appropriately categorized as a story of intrigue. The killer mentioned in the blurb falls increasingly into the background as the book moves around. Which is not to say that his or her presence does not continue to be felt. Regardless of this, the book is a very intriguing run, pun unintended, and has kept me interested throughout.

The setting is a bizarre blend of medieval sensibilities and modern procedures. The Tesseroth Guard with its bardelains, sinistranus and necropsists especially have a structure that is heavily borrowed from modern police forces, though with the unusual fact that the chief of detectives is involved in the day to day grind of investigating crimes where as in the modern world the similar positions would have other responsibilities that would be unduly left wanting.

The overall medieval setting, however probably allows for the more hands on approach. Aside from a glimpse of the killer at work, the thorough investigation methods of the Aleph Sinistranus is your first exposure to the setting and its nature. For a moment, I was prepared for a setting where magic replaced tech but the general development of society was equivalent to the modern day. Instead I found that while some facets of the culture were highly developed, such as the investigations; using concepts that did not get even thought of commonly, much less utilized until the last two or three centuries in our world; while other facets of society were certainly ancient in nature.

The King of Carvel and the respective other monarchs shown or mentioned are all of the absolute power variety. In Carvel's case they are making the first steps toward being a parliamentary monarchy of sorts, but it still leaves the king with a great deal of power. This is not immediately obvious but comes to dominate the book more and more as the story progresses. By the time you are into the second half of the book the murders are seemingly secondary and the very deadly nature of the realm's politics begins to take the stage. The murders feel connected in someway and are likely still important, but it's hard to see how at the moment.

This brings me to my first warning. This story is the first part in a serial and I deliberately used serial rather than series. The fact that there's a magical serial killer involved has nothing to do with it. A series is several linked novels. A serial is one novel published in several parts. Lord of the Rings is a serial, for example. If you go into this story expecting a complete story, you'll be a bit disappointed. This book represents the start of the story and I very much expect the second book to get into the action proper. If the author can continue his current flow it has the promise of being very much an epic. Serials rarely have parts of this length, The Wheel of Time being one such story. Though wheel straddles the line between series and serial.

The story also jumps perspective quite a bit. This is to my preference, but I am aware that others prefer a more stable perspective to follow. Andrin remains the primary character, but the other characters are certainly not chained to waiting on his whims. This does allow for the cast as a whole to be very well developed. We're given insight into the majority of the significant characters of the book. Though the perspective characters are left to specific group leaving a large number of others to exist as suspects for the identity of the Aluian Killer.

The drug mentioned above maintains an importance throughout the book. It is an interesting concoction, borrowing from several other similar such concepts. They main question about it, however is the question as to why the main character has reacted so differently to it. His pyschological, physical and spiritual response to the drug is all at least subtly different. Also, while the drug does have an intensely addictive nature, with most addicts absolutely craving it, it primarily acts more akin to a loyalty poison as seen in many "obey me for the antidote" plotlines. Once in the system, it must be kept in the system or else the user will die. The first use means the user will be dependent on it for the rest of their lives.

The book is strong in its grammar and editing, but there is one segment that stood out as unsatisfactory. There is a conversation in which Andrin puts forth a question that he should have several answers readily apparent especially in light of his recent activities but which he claims not to have one idea as to a possibility. The question seems to serve mostly as a segue for another character to give a small speech of encouragement to him regarding his situation with the drug and thus show that someone out there understands him and his position. The speech itself is fine. The events leading to Andrin asking the question are little iffy but acceptable. It's the "I don't know why X?" question that left me rather grimacing, especially compared to his brilliance in other circumstances. There had to be a better way to introduce that conversation.

To summarize: the characters are compelling and well developed; the setting is intriguing; the plot is engaging even if it wanders a bit (something I do a lot myself); and the book is certainly worth the cost. I'll be looking forward to the next part.

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