When I initially started reading this book, I have to admit, I wasn’t interested. The sheer amount of names, and the learning curve on this fantasy world created a steep price before investing in the plot. I put down this book multiple times before I was drawn in enough to continue, but once I was there (around page 40ish), I couldn’t put the book down. There were some spots that made me laugh, some that made me cry, and I looked forward to hearing every character’s story. So, if you’re willing to put in the time, this story is every bit as amazing as The Iron Druid Chronicles, Hearne’s previous series.
Welcome to the six nations of Teldwen. Each living in a compliant coexistence with the other, it isn’t until they’re faced with invasion that tensions are stretched. Look at the East who are overwhelmed by Bone Giants. Look at the West who are compromised by Hathrim. Who will make it through to the end?
In my earlier post, I included a re-formatted map, in order to make it easier for the reader to follow along because I found the hardest thing to understand was the multitude of places, names, and kennings with their multiple levels of powers. That one was spoiler free. I’ve included another one here, but this one includes MAJOR SPOILERS, to help cement some previous understanding.
And again…since WordPress has limits. I’ve included a hyperlink to Imgur with a full-size image to make it easier to read and reference.
But, since our goal isn’t solely understanding, let’s go ahead and look at our rubric to review this book.
WRITING STYLE 4
How does this book read? It’s very action-oriented, showing how everyone is moving and sliding from place to place. Even looking at the paragraph below, we can see how much action there is compared to reaction and reflection. This leads to the book having imagery and action sequences since the reader can see each battle that people fight.
People streamed out of the tunnel as we marched in, bundles held under their arms and slung on their backs, some pulling carts or riding horse-drawn wagons. Worried evacuees from the tunnel warrens, wondering where they should go. And some of them—quite a few of them—were Brynts who must be refugees, running in advance of the army. It was their bleak, hopeless faces that drove home to me the urgency of our mission. How horrific it must be to be forced out of your home with nothing but the clothes on your back. If we failed—more specifically, if I failed—to hold this army back, then everyone in Baseld and perhaps beyond would wear the same bleak expressions. (434)
Unfortunately, as seen above, it doesn’t have the strongest reaction, which doesn’t elicit a strong connection within the reader. This can weaken a connection with the characters, but, Hearne’s writing style makes up for it in others ways, such as by using a strong voice through very specific word choices—one of his strengths as you can see below.
Cousins I have not seen for seasons but close to my roots, and in their eyes I will see if I have grown straight and true on my own—I am only five years senior to Pen, after all. Perhaps the Black Jaguars and the Blue Moths will not be so eager to disparage the White Gossamers when they are outnumbered. Perhaps if the Canopy is well served by my watch, the White Gossamers will climb again. I would dearly love to be the sprout of that new growth. (115)
Looking at some of the highlighted words above, you can see the word choice has changed to reflect a character within the Fornish region, specifically a benman, or tree speaker. Hearne could’ve used a description of time like “weeks” or “years” but instead he chose “seasons,” since this can help reflect the plant kenning of the Canopy. Because of this, the voices of his characters stand more apart from each other than his ordinary writing.
Because of his strength with word choice, but given his limits in reactions, I’m going to label Hearne’s word choice as a 4.
One of the strengths of this book is the multitude of unique perspectives, 11 to be exact, all written from first person. While these six nations of Teldwen are being invaded by Bone Giants, the reader can see the effects of the war on warriors, citizens, politicians, etc. It lends a rounded experience to this traumatic event. But, one of the weaknesses that comes with having so many characters is the lack in time to develop them.
Let’s consider Abhi for an example. What does he like? I don’t know—men? What does he dislike? Killing animals. What is his strength? He is a plaguebringer, and recently came into some strong powers in seeing, calling, and commanding animals. More a physical strength than a psychological one. What is his weakness? He doesn’t appear to have one? From every situation I’ve seen him in, he’s won every confrontation, which is remarkable considering he’s a boy of 17, who hasn’t see much beyond his family and their old profession of hunting. What is his goal? To earn the recognition of the Beast Caller’s as a true clave.
I struggle giving the characters a 5 because even though each has a persona has strong defining qualities, most of these character don’t seem as deep as other books as I’ve read, lacking qualities about themselves that make themselves stand out. The character above is perhaps one of the strongest within the novel, and although well-rounded, and even then, I don’t see him facing internal conflict. This sounds harsh considering he lost his family, but he has never had to ask himself ‘which should I do?’ He didn’t even seem to be in mourning for that long, or looked down on his powers, which he seemed to assume were only as a result that he had nothing to lose. Because this character didn’t seem to face any internal struggles, I can’t call him a person. He seems more of the 2D simplicity of an always-a-winner superhero.
Because of these weaknesses, I’m going to give the books’ perspectives a 3. I will argue the character connections are strengthened by each character’s voices, written by specific word choices as seen above. But to me, this seems more like a superficial cover up to the lack of details. Each character seems to be driven by a singular detail or event, and to me it doesn’t feel as heart-warming if there isn’t to be a decision to be made with it.
This plot isn’t necessarily original, even if all the names certainly are. When I first started reading this book, the first thing it reminded me was the TV series Avatar: The First Airbender. There, we see four nations, divided by four powers: earth, fire, water, and air; this seems eerily similar to the six Teldwen nations, divided by six kennings with the exception of a few additional powers. This is also similar to the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks, where people are divided amongst the 10 different types of luxin. And again, this is similar to Maria V. Snyder’s Study series.
In each of these plots, we see nations invaded by one another, so I’d like to argue the plot for Hearne’s current series isn’t necessarily original. The originality of this series actually stems from the perspective. This story isn’t a single perspective, or even multiple point-of-views. This book is story inception. Since this book is told from the Raelech bard’s impressions as he’s gathered multiple people’s experiences from journals, it’s revealed how the past has occurred, while we get glimpses of the present.
Because of the unique writing style, I will give this book’s originality a 3 instead of a 2.
I feel like there’s no strong theme to this book, and I’m sure someone is sitting there behind their computer muttering ‘every story has a theme.’ Well, then, if I were to guess, the theme must be about balance, just like it was in Avatar. I can smell a hint of it when reading the book because a few times it’s mentioned, within the different nations battling the others. Even when you hear the nations speak, they look down on each other.
Desperation can drive anyone to madness. Or maybe it wasn’t mad; if he planned to cut down our trees and return south, the potential income from such a timber raid might be significant enough to finance the building of a new city. Panic seized me at the thought. We didn’t have any thornhands up here in the north since the Hathrim timber pirates typically attacked our southern shores, so who could stop him? (73)
If the Hathrim are smart, they will hire Kaurian blowbags to funnel the ash into the Rift. Cyclones, I mean: that’s the proper term, and I should use it. (111)
The Fifth Kenning was meant to be burned by the First, and once we dealt with them, the Nentians would be routed just as before, and Baghra Khek would be secure. (578)
In my youth, before I became a Hearthfire, I used to be a timber pirate until I rose to captain my own ship and then take over Harthrad from my sire. We had to deal with thornhands as a matter of course when we raided the Fornish coast, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed thwarting them. They are freakish creatures who become instruments of death at the sacrifice of their own lives. (584)
Notice the phrases underlined, all derogatory of other kennings. What I found most interesting from this is that much of the disdain seems to originate from Nel, the benman, and Gorin, the Hathrim. I didn’t notice it as much elsewhere, but why would these two kennings experience the most contempt? Other contempt originates between the lines of Brynlon thinking Raelech sent a spy, and so on. But this much room for disparity leaves room for peace and balance…perhaps a theme to develop later?
This can also leave room for union. The book hints at it with quotes like the following.
In the beginning there were seven, and in the end there shall be one. (285)
[The Zanata Sedam] only said the Seventh Kenning was greater than the others, or beyond them, or a blessing past the power of speech. (369)
The book mentioned this could be the driving force of the Eculans, an almost militant justification for why it’s okay to invade and kill, especially those of men, women, and children. But, as also slyly mentioned, this could be referring to the six nations, the six kennings, which only through their union could either find the seventh, or unite to take down the Bone Giants.
But even with these hints at peace, balance, and union, because the main conflict with the Bone Giants hasn’t ended, it’s hard to see the conclusion and arc. This leaves the main drive to result from the reader’s natural curiosity surrounding the missing information in the story, with hints placed like “Rift” or “Seventh Kenning.”
In the beginning there were seven, and in the end there shall be one. Only when there is one shall the Rift be healed and unknown return to the world. Then those who were unknown and unknown will thrive, and the selfish and unknown will perish. (287)
Which is again me just saying, I don’t know. I can blame the entirety lack of a theme on the fact I don’t know the ending. I can blame it on the lingering question of was this written for a theme or entertainment? I’ve always struggled with this question, especially when it comes to terms with a series. Does the length of a series result from the story? Or your wallet? Could be mildly negative of me. But, it could also be realistic.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Hearne, Kevin. A Plague of Giants. New York, NY: Del Ray, 2017. Print.