Saturday, November 12, 2011

Battlehawk (MP Ericson)

I’d say that Battlehawk may be the one to try if you like a quieter sort of fantasy, but somehow that statement doesn’t seem to give justice to the action in this book. Though the novel doesn’t have any dungeon-crawling or dragon-slaying, it still boasts of its fair share of sword fights and battles, calling to mind the weight and grimness of early European history.

Battlehawk is the story of brothers Galchai and Hauel, raised to be swordsmen who will fight to take back their southern kingdom. While they differ in skill and perspective, the task of raising their people back to their former glory and freedom rests on their shoulders.

The novel flows easily, at least at first. I like how in the first eight pages, the author throws you in the middle of the story and expects you to pick it up quickly without burdening you with massive info-dumping. I think it was this kind of restraint that encouraged me to pick this novel up in the first place. It does well to open with Hauel and Galchai as children. Not only does it show the family dynamics, but it also allows the reader more insight into the protagonists’ personalities than the rest of the novel does. I also applaud its treatment of a kingdom in exile, beggared by the years.

Unfortunately, the transitions were a real problem for me. As the brothers grew older and the various tribes and rulers moved closer to the brink of war, I was kept guessing on how much time had really elapsed between events. I had a smoother time reading the first third of the book, leading me to eventually give up on constructing a more concise timeline.

I was also anticipating a pay-off that never really materialized. Based on the story summary, I thought I’d see a definitive showdown between Galchai and Hauel. I had to remind myself that not every difference of opinion must lead to outright conflict or confrontation.

There were other minor details that bothered me. The first page speaks of 'a door hooked open,' and to my mind, a door can either be hooked/latched or open, but never both at the same time. A few pages down, a duel between Hauel and his cousin Robar concludes with 'After that, it was all over. Within moments, Hauel lay on the ground, panting and writhing (page 5)'. But it is Hauel who wins that fight and not Robar. Maybe these can still be corrected in future versions of Battlehawk.

My biggest regret, however, is the minor role given to women in the book although the ending foreshadows a change of direction. Unfortunately, this feels like too little, too late. If one of the lessons of the novel is that society must not exclude feminine wisdom and perspective, then why did it seem like every decision made by women in this novel — at least decisions that the protagonists listened to — led everyone to harm? I wish that there wasn’t such a wide disconnect between intent and application so that the conclusions made at the end of the book are properly justified.

I still think that Battlehawk delivers a fairly enjoyable reading experience. The battle scene towards the end of the book is something I commend. Ms Ericson gives it proper treatment. She doesn’t just turn it into a cut-away scene or dismiss it in a summary. Instead, she allows the action and the drama time to steep and then utilizes these into a fitting climax for her story. In the end, I think Battlehawk would have rated higher if I had found the rest of the novel consistent with its promising beginning and moving conclusion.

This review is cross-posted to Adarna SF. The author provided a free copy for this review.

No comments: