~~Moved from GR~~
Hawkspar (Korre #2)
by Holly Lisle
Oh, how I adored the cover of this book. I thought it was so very cool that I may have had overly high expectations in reading this.
The story takes place in Korre, a world torn by war and prejudice. Part of the story is told in first person by a young female acolyte(I don't think we ever get her name) who is essentially trapped in a convent of "sisters" who embed precious stones of various types into their eyes. Once these new "eyes" are placed, they are granted powers conversant with the precious stones and believe themselves to become the mouthpieces of various goddesses. Given power to envision the future, she forsees a terrible fate which will come upon her people. Determined to save them, our heroine begins to devise a plan that will lead her to freedom before it is too late. The other major character, whose story is in third person, is Aaron, who is on a desperate quest to save his sister. He is a member of the oft-enslaved Noble Savage race, the Tonk (somehow, it came out in my head as "honk," which didn't help.) Overall, there was a lot of promise there; I just felt the story didn't follow through.
I found some of the story elements problematic. For one thing, I had issues with the balance of climax and downtime. I felt oddly "cheated" by the twist.
Throughout, the problems and solutions felt somewhat contrived to me. In addition, the book dealt with oracle demigoddesses, and that's always tricky to pull off well. I just don't think Lisle managed it. The oracle skills were used repeatedly as excuses for deus ex machinas, while at the same time, introducing some significant plot holes.
One thing that wasn't fond of, but that will vary by taste: Lisle tends to "threaten" punishments or outcomes repeatedly. There were several "fates" that the characters mentioned and dreaded over and over and over and over. And then without fail, said events occurred, but since of course our protagonists have to make it through a reasonable portion of the book, the events turned out to not be particularly bad. The antagonists were all bark and despite all of their efforts, simply had no bite. For me, true horror comes from the unseen and unexperienced, from the terrible paths that the imagination can take, and true enjoyment stems from the unexpected. I was able to predict most of the "twists" that occurred in the book; the few I wasn't felt to me like Deux ex machina. As someone who reads mostly mystery interlaced with non-traditional fantasy, I know my irritation at this is far from universal, but it greatly detracted from my enjoyment.
Characterization is very important to me, and I felt that most of the characters lacked...well...character. They tended to be essentially perfect actors, completely without self-interest and fully willing to take all sacrifices for the good of their people, etc. Honestly, they also just weren't that bright. I like characters to be complex and with areas of shade and light. I encountered the same issue with the political message that Lisle seemed to be advocating. Certain groups of people were simply too evil, or too idealistic, to be plausible to me. Guess what? Slavers are Bad People. There is no complexity to evil characters; they are pretty much either evil for power or evil for the fun of it. To keep the balance, the good races/ people are of course essentially perfect. There was also a romance that just seemed contrived and awkward. However, at the same time, I found none of the characters jarring or unsympathetic. I also thought the moments leading up to the climax were very well done, and Lisle's ability to pull the reader into her world is brilliant. Although I couldn't warm to the story, the original concepts and detailed world make it an interesting read.