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Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey

Cover art by Donato

Published by Tor Books

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

This book is the second half of the story begun in Banewreaker. I wish I could say that in this volume Ms. Carey has overcome the problems I found in that one. Unfortunately, it is written in the same distancing style as the first volume, leaving me feeling that I'm reading only a sketch of the novel it should have been. A novel we know she's capable of writing for the simple reason that her Kushiel novels are so rich with detail that it feels like you're right there in them with the protagonists.

I know that some critics have been complaining quite heatedly about the supposed moral inversion by which the Dark Lord becomes the hero instead of the villain. However, Satoris isn't really a Dark Lord in the tradition of Morgoth or Sauron in Middle Earth or Lord Foul in the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. That is, he is not a being that set himself up in opposition to the creator out of overweening ambition. Rather, it is pretty clearly established in the first volume that his break with his elder brother Haomane was a matter of Creative Differences, and that he is much more a Prometheus figure than a Lucifer.

However much Satoris may have wanted to be left alone after their quarrels turned to violence, Haomane has forced war upon him yet again, via the agent Malthus (one of the absolute worst name choices -- I couldn't read it without thinking of Thomas Malthus, who wrote the first treatise on the limits of population growth). And while there was a certain measure of gallantry at the beginning -- for instance, although Satoris kidnapped the Ellyl princess Cerelinde in hopes of thwarting the prophecy of his death and the undoing of all his works, he did not harm her, and even treated her as an honored guest within his fortress -- the war grew steadily uglier as the book progressed. Each side took more desperate measures in an effort to destroy the other, until it got to the point where both sides were pretty dark. For all that Malthus re-emerges from the destroyed magical transport system garbed in white (which seems to be meant to evoke Gandalf the Grey returning as Gandalf the White in Lord of the Rings), he is certainly willing to commit all sorts of atrocities in order to attain his goals, and regards the harm he does to civilians as being mere collateral damage.

In many ways, I think that Jacqueline Carey was intending this duology to be a more modern answer to Tolkien's medievalistic optimism. Instead of divinely ordained hierarchies and hereditary monarchies being the ideal, they're tyrannies that prevent the talented from rising to their full potential. War is not a noble clash of heroes but an ugly race to the bottom as each side does whatever it takes to win. And even Tolkien's intense nostalgia for past glories is replaced by the longing for what might have been, the sense that if only everybody involved hadn't been so damned hard-headed and just could have talked instead of lashing out and fighting, maybe everything could've come out so much better.

And quite honestly, as I finish the second volume, I'm left with my own personal might-have-been, wishing that the could have been fleshed out and told with the same sensory richness that drew me into the Kushiel novels and made me love them. Because quite honestly, when I saw these two books, I was expecting a story of that same lushness, not this spare prose that again and again offers frustrating glimpses of wide open vistas, of people and events that I'd like to be able to approach more closely and know more intimately, the way I did in the Kushiel books. But always this omniscient narrative voice holds me at a distance, so unlike the Kushiel books.

And quite honestly, I'm glad to see that she seems to be going back to the world of Terre d'Ange and telling us more stories set further down its timeline. That world really seems to be her metier, and for all that this novel ends with hints of possible future adventures, I really can't say that I'm overly excited to read them.

Review posted January 1, 2010.

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