Melusine

I recently turned in a major research paper (which will ultimately become the first chapter of my thesis) so I have a bit of a breathing space. (For two weeks until the whole reading-paper-reading-paper stuff starts up again.) In that breathing space, I read the book Melusine by Sarah Monette.

And I liked it. It is definitely book one of A SERIES. At least, it had better be considering how many threads she left hanging. It is a rather uneasy book; the first part of the book is extraordinarily well-crafted; the middle of the book wavers about until it rushes, discarding characters left and right, to the end.

The book is told in alternating first-person: Felix (a wizard with a history in the bad part of town) and Mildmay (the principle narrator; a thug from the bad part of town). Felix is off his head for most of the book, and the off-the-head scenes are believable. Felix is also carrying a lot of mental baggage, which is also believable. (And evocative; the writing is good.) That said, Mildmay has the far stronger voice in terms of character. When he talks about Felix, Felix's character also comes clearer. I think the writer was right to keep both narrators, but the difference in strength adds to the uneven feel to the book.

Around the middle of the book about five story strands are added and never finished. Since the book is 421 pages long, I don't see that any of them were necessary unless they were for book 2 (and 3 and 4); if so, I wish some kind of acknowledgement had been made at the end of the book. "Set-up and pay-off" my playwriting professor used to say, and even if payoff isn't going to come for several books, I should at least know that it is still in the cards. We never even learn what the bad guy's motive is.

Nevertheless, I approve of this book being published despite its unevenness because the set-up is so good. It's world fantasy (or, which is rather more popular, city fantasy) where the reader is thrust into a fully-developed, complex civilization on page one. Monette uses the usual world/city fantasy elements (although there are no elves, thankfully; not that I mind elves, but I get tired of the constant array of man-elf-dwarf, etc. This is mostly just a bunch of people). Monette's ability is not that she has created something totally new (check out Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint and C.J. Cherryh's Angel With the Sword) but that the reader believes in the world. Which I don't always. But I believe in this one.

And the characters are more than a little appealing. I'm a big fan of honorable-men- supporting-each-other-through-thick-and-thin fiction. I like Prison Break even though I don't really like the morality at work (I'm not sure one person's life is worth all the deaths and grief and anguish and taxpayer's money that Michael Schofield is expending. The only thing that keeps it working is that Schofield obviously didn't anticipate the problems that have occurred, and now he is in too deep. On the same note, one reason Batman is a preferable hero to so many others is the underlying acknowledgment that he is a vigilante and that there are problems attending such a stance.) In any case, Melusine comes up trumps in this area, and they are some nice subtleties of characterization . . . that are also left hanging; but, hey, at least they are there.

CATEGORY: BOOKS

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