by Mathew Babaoye

I liked this book. I just wish I could have liked it more.

There is a lot to like. The concept is good: it is about a supernatural Lady, the Queen of Night, and her struggle to consolidate her control over her world. She struggles with her subjects, with her responsibilities, with her power, and with herself; it’s a story with a lot of interest, a lot of conflict, a lot of places it could go. I like the writing style: short sentences, short paragraphs, breaks where there shouldn’t be breaks; it makes the reader consider the words more carefully, makes us notice what’s being said. There’s an element of the epic in the writing, in the way certain phrases – her blue-black hair and black dress; the old hard-bitten gold carpet in her throne room – are repeated, almost Homeric. And the name, of course, is brilliant: Goldenslaughter. I still don’t know: are the last two syllables “slaughter” – or “laughter?” I love that ambiguity, as much as I love both possibilities.

But the potential is not quite realized. The writing style is interesting, but the mechanical mastery is insufficient to allow the style to really flow; there are flaws in the writing, in the editing, that make the reader question what is intentional, what just a mistake, and that means the moments when you notice what the prose is doing, when you see it start to dance – you don’t know if it’s only stumbling. The epic phrases are too few, and too often repeated; they start to seem dull, rather than classical. The storyline gets lost in the mystery: the story begins with Goldenslaughter already having conquered her realm, gained the loyalty of her subjects, and then lost that loyalty through an attempt to gain total mastery of the Power that keeps her on the throne. Coming in to the middle of the plot can work, but there has to be a careful process of backbuilding, through flashbacks and the like, so that the audience can gain a complete understanding of how the story got to where it is; this book doesn’t do that. The best way I can put it is that the book makes the reader work too hard to understand what’s going on, rather than the writer doing all of the heavy lifting for the audience. Here: an example. There is a scene in the early going when Goldenslaughter confers with the Lady of Elements, who has had a prophetic dream; that dream gives hints of what will happen to Goldenslaughter. By the end of the book, that dream comes true, and after that happens, Goldenslaughter and the Lady mention that earlier discussion, and the warning that the Lady offered to her Queen, which the Queen did not heed. This is all fine: except the poetic language the two use in the first discussion is too abstract, and I for one had no idea what the Lady was talking about until the later scene when Goldenslaughter refers to it. So the foreshadowing of the prophecy was lost on me, as were all of the hints of what Goldenslaughter meant to do and why it would be challenging and dangerous.

The end of the book is the best part: the final climax is well-done, with a good battle scene and a really fine resolution to the central conflict, when Goldenslaughter makes her choice about who and what she is. I just couldn’t really follow most of the book leading up to that, even though I enjoyed reading it.

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