Tuesday, 3 November 2009

‘Candle in the Storm’ – Morgan Howell (Del Rey)


When this book came through the door my first thought was to leave it to one side. After all, it was ‘book two in a trilogy’ and I hadn’t read the first book so wasn’t sure if I’d get the most out of the story (seeing as I’d be playing catch up). Then I figured, why don’t I just give it a go anyway? It would be interesting to see if I could just jump in without having read the first book and it felt like it had been a while since I had read a slim fantasy novel (‘Candle in the Storm’ weighs in at a healthy three hundred and seventy pages). I decided to go for it even though it led to the slightly awkward prospect of reading a book where the cover art is focused on a woman showing off some leg while trying to look all coy. This wouldn’t be so bad but I do most of my reading on the commute to and from work...

As it turned out, my fellow commuters were all too busy reading ‘Twilight’ (or the ‘Metro’) to really care about what I was reading, let alone what was on the cover. Score one to me! As far as being able to jump straight into the story though, keep reading and I’ll tell you what it was like...

Through his earthly incarnation, the dread Lord Bahl, the Devourer has tightened his grip on the land and revels in the systematic extermination of the followers of the benevolent Goddess Karm. Only two people stand in the way of the prospect of hell on Earth. Yim is a former slave girl to whom Karm has given the ability to stop Bahl’s conquests; the cost of this could prove to be terrible however... Honus is a warrior without equal and her sworn protector. They share a love that will be put to the ultimate test in the face of the only possible way that the approaching darkness can be halted...

The blurb will give you a pretty clear indication that ‘Candle in the Storm’ suffers from ‘silly name syndrome’; something that you don’t see a lot of in fantasy fiction these days but is still prone to making the odd appearance here and there. These aren’t the worst names either but I’ll leave you to find them by yourself. The setting appears to be fairly formulaic as well with a Dark Lord overrunning the land (which is drawn very well) for no real reason other than to see it burn and glory in the destruction. Don’t Dark Lords ever stop to think about what they’re going to do once there’s only ash and bones left and they’ve killed everything else? And surely it must be pretty lonely lording it over a world where you’re the only thing left alive? The whole ‘Dark Lord thing’ works as a threat but only up to a point. If the destruction is just mindless though, and serves no ultimate purpose, the threat loses its focus and I’m left wondering what the point is. Although having said that though, there is a lot to be said for fighting to stay alive! I guess I was just looking for more than just wanton destruction this time round.

The good news though is that Howell writes with such emotion and intensity that I for one found myself forgetting the silly names and going along with the flow for what ended up being a very entertaining tale. (And there are enough hints about previous events to make jumping on at this point a viable option). Pairing up Yim and Honus proves to be a good move in that the reader has a book with a good balance between compassionate introspection (Yim) and all out combat (Honus); if you like either then there’s something here for you. The warfare was what I came for and that certainly didn’t disappoint. They’re not the grittiest scenes you will ever read but you’ll be left in no doubt as to the horrors of warfare. Again, the ‘ultimate warrior’ trope isn’t exactly new but Howell pulls it off nevertheless by giving us a look at Honus’ state of mind throughout the plot. The contrast between physical prowess and the mental process it took to get there certainly freshens things up.

While Yim and Honus’ budding relationship may seem a little contrived at first (and very black and white regarding how certain decisions are made) once you get into it a little bit more there’s a lot that keeps the pages turning. Both Yim and Honus are trying to reconcile themselves with a tough past in a world where the both present and future are far from certain. There is a lot to deal with here and the urgency of the plot doesn’t allow them a chance to settle down and get things sorted. A lot of things have to be done ‘on the run’ and this results in a ‘two fold urgency’ that drives the plot even faster.
When Yim is faced with her ultimate test, you can’t help but feel for her even though the way forward has been clearly signposted. The outcome of this ‘test’ sets things up nicely for the final book but the formulaic approach to the plot left me feeling that I know how it has to end...

‘Candle in the Storm’ is a weird one in that while I’ll certainly pick up the next book I can’t see the story staying in my head in the meantime. It didn’t fail to entertain me but I couldn’t help thinking that I’d seen it all before...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

1 comment:

RKCharron said...

Thank you for the thoughtful review Graeme.
All the best,
RKCharron
:)