Monday, February 25, 2013

White Mountain by Sophie Tallis

Review based on ARC.

In the end, it fell at three.
While I read this book, my feelings toward it changed often and dramatically.  I felt that the beginning warranted closer to four stars, portions of the middle were great, portions were good, and portions were frustrating.  And the end redeemed itself a little.

This book falls squarely in the "fantasy" camp.  Three friends a/k/a companions find themselves on a Lord of the Rings -esque trek across a large version of our world (or else the dragon flies remarkably slow).  Wizard Marval/Marvalla/M Agyk (a-hem) a/k/a the Green Wizard, dragon Gralen, and witch Wendya encounter incredibly extreme situation after incredibly extreme scenario, fighting for their lives at every turn, eventually leading to a fifty-or-so page "climactic" fight for the known universe.  In between each of these incredibly extreme situations falls lengthy and involved descriptions of scenery with spatterings of "normal" conversation among(st) the friends.

The book includes "dworlls" (dwarfs), ellfrn (elves), dragons/draken (dragons/baby dragons), dwelf (cross-elves and dwarfs), wizards and witches, and various dark creatures/spirits/monsters such as dark mytes (demonic/spirit-like giant beetles), wargols (troll-like entities), and, Morreck/m'Sorreck himself.

Right.  That's one of the major issues I had with this book... not the various creatures. Like I said, I'm a fantasy-girl.  The issue is that it felt like a regurgitated LOTR w/ some Harry Potter thrown in.  Except with HP5-level immaturity and tantrums.  M Agyk (I cringed every time I read it) was Gandalf (with some Dumbledore thrown in) .. except instead of being the "Grey" Wizard, he was Green.  Wendya was the generic protagonist/Harry Potter (does not yet know (a) how strong she is or (b) about her twisted past).  Gralen was Samwise/Ronald Weasley/Hagrid.  Of course there are great differences, of course they are not actually the same characters.. but there were SO many times that I thought "uh-huh, LOTR" or "oh, there's HP!"

Additionally, M Agyk's thousand, Gralen's many hundreds, and even "young" Wendya's several hundred years on this planet have not stopped them from making amateur/adolescent mistakes.  There were essentially tantrums, pouts, and clumsy dealings with the challenges, rather than the maturity and broad vision that would be expected from someone with at the least several hundred years of life on them.  Indeed, the whole book might have been less frustrating to read if the three leads were in the late teens or early twenties. Just that -- and publishing as a YA -- would make the book seem "appropriate."

Nevertheless, there is promise with the author and the series.  The descriptions, while long and sometimes gratuitous, DID bring the landscape to life and created a colorful and three-dimensional picture in my head.  The loooong battle at the climax of the tale was surprisingly well done - moving between the different locations of the fighters somewhat effortlessly and mostly convincingly.  Certain of the characters were even endearing and all of the characters were well-described, if not very well developed.  It was easy to turn the page.  I did want to know what happened next.  I did  tense up during the battle scenes.

Moreover, I felt that Tallis nailed the oracle scene and Agyk's first interaction with Morreck.  Those scenes fall into "great."  If she had limited the sheer number of life-threatening situations in one book to just a couple, if she had limited her descriptions (or, really, the need for such descriptions) to just a few (no need to cover the whole world in book 1 of a trilogy), if she had been just a little more realistic with the whole love-triangle bit (what works in a cartoon does not necessarily work in a novel), and if she had instead taken that space to develop the characters' characters (heh heh) a little more, I think the book could easily jump a star.

As is often the case w/ new fantasy writers, the second book may be leagues ahead of the 1st.  I would recommend the book to YA-fantasy readers looking for something to bring back thoughts of HP and LOTR, and I would recommend to die-hard fantasy fans who aren't particular about polished writing.
Overall, THREE of five stars.