Ian Irvine – Vengeance

I consider Ian Irvine to be one of the better fantasy authors. His stories are original and very different in setup and development than other fantasy. The style he prefers has some weakness, to me at least, especially because he hasn’t managed some variation to it. He wrote three series, eleven books, of his Three Worlds cycle, and his latest book is something different to provide him some time to refresh his inspiration and creativity. As it does not take place in the same universe as the Three Worlds, I was interested in the new take it could provide.

The first book of the Tainted Realm Trilogy is called Vengeance. The scope has been downsized a lot, focusing on a rather small nation inhabited by two conflicting peoples. The title is chosen aptly as the vengeance theme plays a role throughout the story.

Irvine keeps a smaller cast for this series, limiting himself to three characters of which there are almost always at least two together. This provides plenty of interaction and character development and Irvine manages to do well as I am used to from him. There is fairly large subcast of side characters, but their interaction with the main characters stays so limited that that they remain somewhat one-dimensional.

Even though the setting is limited to a small nation, travel by horse can be fast enough to reach most destinations in one day, there is a large geographical variety of ice fields, mountains, volcanic landscape and fertile lands. To me this seemed a bit too much for such a small area. Not impossible, but at times implausible within the story framework. The advantage was that little time was needed to spend on traveling, allowing events to follow quickly.

The plot itself starts with two storylines. The first starts somewhat slowly and is besides the twists leading to an inevitable conclusion, although Irvine does his best to make it hard to get to the destination. The second storyline I thought was much more entertaining and refreshing to his usual style as developments were fast and full with action. Mixing it with the main storyline provide with the right variation to allow the first storyline to play out without getting too tedious.

At the moment the two storylines started to converge Irvine fell back to his usual habit which I consider his weakness. In this the main character suffers from a long series of bad luck, only bearably managing to go forward, while the adversaries enjoy a series of good luck. This is, they are vastly superior, always manage to catch up at anytime necessary and seem indestructible. And I should not forget that the number of adversaries is simply staggering. They all pop up around the same time around the same place. Irvine manages to play this incredible complex convergence of conflicts out in an impressive way. The thing is that he does this too often. If it happens once or at a final scene it is okay, but when it occurs almost everytime (as he did in the Three Worlds novels) it becomes implausible. Besides this, the complexity is so great that Irvine goes into full detail to keep it all together, creating an extended sequence that lasts 100 or 200 pages. It is marvelously done and it makes a thrilling read. At the end however, the reader will realize that plotwise not really much has happened and only one event has been described. I’ve read novels that took place over just one day. A lot was happening and there were usually several storylines. At the end all of them were concluded and the story was done. Why this doesn’t work for Ian Irvine is that at the end of the sequence you are only at one third of the book. It doesn’t form a greater whole and is just no more than an extensive event.

Either way, this time Irvine only did his habitual thing for the first part of the book. After one third the story changes. The pace moves up and plot-twisting events follow with great speed. Irvine drops the detail and the story becomes an intense pageturner that propels the reader to the breathtaking end.

So this second part is very unlike Irvine and in a way refreshing. There is a downside to this change of habit and pace. Irvine always impressed me with his details and precise storytelling. This time he became quite sloppy. Several times I got confused at sudden appearances and minor events that didn’t make much sense. Again there was the implausibility. Not because too much happened at the same time and the bad guys were too lucky. Characters popped up suddenly from nowhere and some seemed to know everything without any explanation. All in all these minor annoyances turned into dissatisfaction. There was a lot of good stuff which I enjoyed a lot. Sloppiness can happen. It just shouldn’t happen too much or not be too obvious.

So this new novel doesn’t live up to the quality of Irvine’s previous work. There is more action and more intensity. The plot contains more twists and thrills. This does come with loss of detail and sloppiness to keep the plot coherent. A good pageturner and overall enjoyable, without being as outstanding and original as Irvine readers are accustomed to.

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