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Book review -- Tears of Artamon - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Book review -- Tears of Artamon
Someday, I will just read a series in order. Really, I will. But it wasn't this time. I read the Tears of Artamon trilogy 2-3-1 (Prisoner of the Iron Tower, Children of the Serpent's Gate, then Lord of Snow and Shadows). It's kind of just as well--the first was probably the one I liked least... but I liked all of it. The author is Sarah Ash.

At first, I was having a problem with the too-familiar names of fantasy countries and even people. Rossiya, Francia, Allemonde... Drakhoul, Astasia (princess of a Russian-like dynasty), and so on. It was distracting. But I got over it and got into the story, which is actually an interesting take on men tempted by power, corrupted by it, and redeemed by responsibility. (And yes, it's mostly men who have the good journey, but there are a couple of pretty neat women in it as well. They're just not the ones dealing with the drakhouls, particularly.)

The basic gist of the series is that in the fantasy continent of Rossiya, there are five divided princedoms, by legend the descendents of the last emperor, Artamon, by his five sons, who opened a portal to hell to get demonic powers to fight one another. They ended up fracturing the empire, and the ruby they used to open the portal was broken into five pieces, called the Tears of Artamon. Each princedom has one, and the law of the land is that the one who holds all five becomes emperor (to my delight, this is actually challenged). Prince Eugene of Tielen is aggressively ambitious and has already gathered three of them when the story starts. The two remaining are from Muscobar and Azhkendir, but the Azhkendir one is in the hands of the ruler's estranged wife in another princedom. Her son Gavril, a charming young artist, meanwhile, is unexpectedly called to inherit his father's position... and the demon that possessed him and gave him vast powers, at the price of his humanity. The demon is the last of its kind and is desperate to survive. Eugene is much, much smarter than Gavril, who can only rely on the brute force of the demonic power, and doesn't want to do that, as it requires him to drink the blood of innocents (Drakhoul, of course, from Dracula...GET IT????... er, sorry, I said I got over it, right? ;)) to stay alive when he uses the power. Eugene, in one of his few serious blond moments, decides to get a drakhoul of his own later on, and looses a whole lot more trouble than he intended. The story follows the bloody birth of an empire, foreign intrigues as the empire falls apart, and finally the redemption from an ancient sin and--well, it's a spoiler, but I intend to talk about it anyway
S
P
O
I
L
E
R--
the eventual more peaceful reconciliation of the five princedoms, and even the healing of the half-mad prince of another country (descended from one of the princes whose line was deposed, I think)... and, ultimately, the return of a fallen angel to his original status.

What I particularly liked about these books is that no side of the conflict is right or wrong, but the concepts of right and wrong are clear anyway. Some have some things right, others have other things right, and everyone is a mess at choosing (except one person, more later). Eugene is brilliant and a good father, and he cares deeply about people under his care. But he's also voraciously ambitious and has a nasty cruel streak about people who stand in his way. Gavril is good-hearted and sensitive, but totally out of his depth and confused about what he should be doing (not to mention the whole drinking-the-blood-of-innocents thing). Altessa (later Empress) Astasia is a flighty young girl who's very distractable and naive, but grows into a devotion to her people. Little Princess Karila is semi-saintly in her role, but can also be a bit of a spoiled brat...

Basically, the people are like people, and the motives are like human motives.

Except for one extremely prominent character who just annoyed me from beginning to end--the saintly servant girl in Gavril's new castle, with whom he falls deeply in love. She is secretly the descendent of shamans and can sing spirits back and forth from the Ways Beyond (at the danger of becoming lost there). She now and then trips up because she's just too good hearted, and sometimes has a little trouble because people she cares about are in conflict with each other, but she's always on the right side of everything, and she's beautiful and kind and takes care of wounded animals and volunteers her innocent blood to heal Gavril. The author names her Kiukiu, but my goodness, I think we all know that her real name begins with Mary and ends with Sue... and I'm not one who calls that on any powerful character. So it irritated me that she was so prominent. But it was a minor irritation; Eugene and Gavril and Astasia and Karila and even the demon Khezef are more than worth the occasional servings of pure treacle. She only weakens it inasmuch as it's hard to justify Gavril's fanatical love of her, but that's a general weakness in the first book--none of the relationships initially in it seem particularly strong, and I was surprised at that, because the assumptive closeness in later books involved a lot more bonding than actually happened in the text.

But despite the fact that I can go into detail about what's wrong, the truth is that the books do a lot of things right. It takes some writing chops to pull off the redemption of demons (as opposed to simply freeing the demon-possessed person) and make me actually want them to be redeemed. I wish it had been set up earlier--there are only the vaguest of hints in the first one--but it's developed well over the latter two, so I have to assume that's when Ash found her stride with the story. And she really found it--from Khezef's first fumbling "save" of Gavril to his final battle with other demons, it actually works.

Anyway, I recommend the trilogy.
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Comments
From: octobersnow Date: March 27th, 2006 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the rec; I've been looking for something to read. Also, as a lurker wanting to be apart of the party, do you mind if I friend you?

As for Mary Sues in literature, I think the ultimate is Ayla from the Clan of the Cave Bear Series. I recently reread it and my thoughts were 'Damn, the Mother of all Mary Sues'.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 27th, 2006 09:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have yet to mind a friend :).

There are a few Sues out there. Not everyone labeled a Sue is a Sue, but some are. I've heard that about Ayla before, though I haven't read the Auel books.
From: (Anonymous) Date: March 28th, 2006 05:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, I'm really glad you posted this. I read the first one a few years ago and was moderately intrigued, but overall "meh". I then bought the second one, but left it sitting on the shelf. This inspires me to actually break it out and read it. So, thanks. :)

Re: Ayla, hoo boy. I really liked the first of those books, but each successive one (and I think I only made it through the next two) she became more and more Sue-ish. She discovered EVERYTHING.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: March 28th, 2006 07:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
It took me a couple of chapters to get into the second one, but that may have been because I hadn't the faintest idea what was going on and hadn't noticed the "Book 2 in..." note on the cover. ;)
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