Archive for September, 2015

Judith Tarr – A Fall Of Princes

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

Judith Tarr follows a not often used format by introducing a new main protagonist in each new novel of her Avaryan Rising fantasy series. I should add here that she also likes to use two main protagonists to tell the story from different perspectives. She does so in the third novel of the series, A Fall Of Princes (1988). The plot takes place some decades after the events of the previous novel and concentrates itself on the children of the main characters of the previous novel. While most fantasy series would tell a story of an empire being forged, Tarr is less interested in that and focuses mostly on the characters who are central to it, leaving the conquering and warfare to secondary storylines. The reader actually sees very little of the empire forging. Already in this third novel the so-called divine empire that has been created has already swallowed most of its smaller neighbours so that only and equally powerful other empire stands against it.

While this premise would lead to many predictable stories, Tarr surprises the reader from the start and sets off in very different directions. The story is very much crafted to develop the two main protagonists in their own particular ways while they keep orbiting around each other. She does a fair job on it although neither of the main protagonists were very much appealing to me which perhaps made it hard for me to give it the appreciation it should have gotten.

The plot dulls a bit in the middle section which consists of two parts that both aim to pull the main protagonists stronger together and more apart from their opposing parties. It is the most difficult part of the plot and Tarr, to me, doesn’t pull it off completely convincingly. She has done this approach before and then I was not satisfied either. Nevertheless the middle section is quite enjoyable because Tarr remains in a more familiar setting and there are less odd twists that would make one wonder what it is about.

Odd twists are plentiful in the final section. Tarr tries to put all the pieces into the right place but to me they did not fit very well. One part of the problems is that much of the mysteries in the first part are mostly absent in the middle section and then return to bring everything together. The reader will then have forgotten the details and has to try to work it out for himself. Although I consider myself to be pretty sharp on interesting bits I was not wholely satisfied. The plot is not entirely solid. It is clear what Tarr wanted to tell about in the story she devised but it is far from perfect as it contains quite some difficulties that she did not solve well enough for me.

What does give this novel much more than the first two novels is the cultural diversity and details. Before there were few particularities to be distinguished. The reader had to fill in part of the world. In this novel Tarr introduces several new cultures and explores them more deeply, making the story richer and giving it more depth and colour. These are certainly elements that compensate for the flaws in the difficult plot that Tarr set up. Also somewhat unusual that neither of the main protagonists are white although it is a detail the reader barely notices in the story as Tarr makes it a natural thing of the setting.

One particular thing about this novel is the large degree of bisexuality present. Although it is far from unique from older fantasy it not common either. Tarr tells it in a convincing way without becoming visual which might be unappealing to some readers. Compared to many traditional cultures Tarr does a good job making it feel more natural within the world she has created.

A Fall Of Princes is not an easy novel. Tarr certainly aimed high but in my honest opinion she did not achieve her goal. She did not fail, but there are some flaws and weaknesses in the difficult plot that make it fall short in comparison to the more concentrated and straightforward plots of the first two novels of the series. Fortunately the story contains many enjoyable parts and Tarr tells her story in such a way that the reader is engaged from start to end. Because it is an unusual story within the far more similar fantasy novels of today it is a refreshing and worthwhile read.