Archive for September, 2013

Mark Charan Newton – The Book Of Transformations

Friday, September 6th, 2013

In his third installment in the Legends Of The Red Sun fantasy series, Mark Charan Newton returns to the setting of the first novel. Again he seems to give preference to use as one of the central characters an investigator of the law enforcement. Although the character is different from the previous there are still some similarities that betray Newton falling into a familiar rhythm.

The Book Of Transformations (2011) finds its title reflected in several elements in the novel, among which the characters take center piece. Newton uses his fantasy story as a vehicle to portray cases from our own society. They may seem history to some of us, but more part of actuality to others. As I am pretty open-minded they feel a bit overly done to me. Newton put too much attention to it which might make some reader uncomfortable while others less impressed. For me using these familiar analogues to our own society weakens the worldbuilding as the world is not that much different from ours while the whole concept would advocate taking things to a greater extreme.

In my review of the second book, City Of Ruins, I compared Newton to a light version of China Miéville. In this novel the distance widens as the weirdness grows less. There is less subtlety and more common elements that he uses to poor effect. He makes certain factions far too strong while the supposedly powerful central faction appears to be quite weak and incompetent.

The story also takes a ride on the superhero popularity while putting it in the typical ambiguous setup that plays down familiar lines. Even though the setting is set in a fantasy world he does not manage to make much of it while there are some interesting takes which he does not really follow.

The narrative is divided between a fair number of characters. Newton uses less than in the previous novel which allows for some more character development, but only a few are fleshed out decently. He makes some promising choices but they do not lead to much excitement as he lets it flow without much interference.

The lack of interference and confrontations makes the story go easy. There are only a few chance encounters and elsewhere everybody seems to miss each other. What confrontations there are, pass quickly, and do not lead to much while I had expected them to do so.

One of the storylines used by Newton fell somewhat out of place. The cause for this was that it did not occur in sync with the rest of the story. It started before the story, seemed to go slowly at the start and suddenly it rushed ahead so it matched with the finale. The finale itself disappointed much as pretty much all expected confrontations were avoided. Of course this can happen in a certain case, but when it happens to all it removes all the hoped for excitement.

It seems I have little good to say about this novel. As it goes it is well written. The plotting is decent but somewhat dull. The characters are nice and some are interesting. Newton put in a fair number of contemporary social themes which may resonate with some readers, although they didn’t do so for me. That would improve the quality of a novel normally, but some social themes are developed too easily, without flaws or weakness, which should be there, and that lowers the quality again. I did enjoy the novel and the pages turned easily. Personally I like a novel to give me some thought or challenges. Unfortunately there were few and relatively weak.

The novel is still must read for those who want to see the development of the series and I have read worse follow ups. I would call this one a fair one. It is not bad, but not good either as Newton seems to avoid exploring many of the interesting ideas he introduced and went for the easier ones.

Mark Charan Newton – City Of Ruins

Sunday, September 1st, 2013

I usually have mixed feelings when starting a series with the second book as it could disclose too much information on the first novel. Fortunately this remained very minimal with City Of Ruins (2010) by Mark Charan Newton. This second book of Legends Of The Red Sun takes the reader to a place that is distant from the location of the first novel and where much else is happening so that the events of the first book have little effect on the lives here.

The world of the Red Sun is a very old world in which many relics of the past remain and few know what they do, so that the technology is much like magic. Besides humans there a some other humanoid species and various odd creatures and hybrids that were manufactured with the ancient knowledge in the past but also today. All in all this setting reminded me much of the New Crobuzon novels by China Miéville. It is not as extreme but it comes fairly close. Newton’s world is also less intricate and not full-packed with ideas, keeping a lot of regular fantasy elements. I could almost call it Miéville-light version; something easier to get into than the usual Miéville novel. This is not something negative; it is just a description on what to go on.

Although Newton did spend some time on his world-building, he did not take it full-course. There are a fair number of details where he uses things that are common in our own world, which for me conflicted with the otherworldly feeling. The same thing he used in his story elements. Some of the background components to expand the story’s depth seemed to be taken from typical things from our own society. Perhaps he wanted to add some hidden comments on our own society. To me it didn’t resonate as they did not always seem to fit as I felt I was missing some background picture that could explain it. Now the reader just had to take it for granted.

The story itself is not very complex. There are many intertwined story threads which create a great canvas for the story with many details. This was well done, but as there were so many most of them were rather simple or turned out to be simpler eventually. Some threads could have been expanded into something more interesting but they weren’t.

Another thing that goes hand in hand with the many threads is that Newton uses many character perspectives to tell the story. Doing this provides him with the opportunity to do plenty of characterization. However, using that many means he uses most characters only two or three times and to me he wasn’t able to get the most out of the characters. There was no character that I grew attached to and only a few characters I considered interesting. Most of them remained rather ordinary.

Despite all these minor hickups the story was quite entertaining. As said the structure was well done and I didn’t notice any flaws in the plotting, which kept a steady pace and provided a long and strong finale. It took me some time to pick a novel from this series up as I had some doubts if it would be to my taste but I have been positively surprised. I will not call it great or fantastic, but this is a good novel and certainly recommendable. I will certainly read more of this series.