Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Solstice Selection

I've managed to read through most of my birthday book purchases (a large armful) and have really enjoyed most of them. Just in time for the solstice, I finished Jessica Andersen's Sky Keepers.
amazons cover art image It's a paranormal romance, which is to say it's a Fantasy novel that doesn't shy away from the fact that humans have sex in their adult relationships. And unlike most SciFi/Fantasy/Paranormal books J.Andersen's series is based on Mayan mythology, incorporating the important things like blood sacrifice and corn, so it reads as true to some degree. With less need to suspend disbelief about those details, because she gets it right, one can save it for the big stuff she created for the story.

The premise is that the Mayan calendar "end time" is approaching in 2012 (true) and that there will be a big battle with demons and whatnot (not true, the fiction part of the story). There should have been a big protection force but they made some errors and were nearly wiped out. The remainder were late coming to their birthright (bloodline duties, really) and not all are totally excited about their upcoming prophecied future, or what of that prophecy they can find. Pairing up helps boost their magical energies, so the few remaining "mages" are living in a protected home and scrambling to reconstruct the prophecies and train as the protective "Nigghtkeepers" but are still finding mates. On the whole, I like the series and I think this book is the best of the three so far.

I do have some critiques of the series. In the world building - while humans are essentially pack animals, and the whole gang is based on inheritance, they wind up with a "king". For a bunch of people raised in 1980+'s America, I think the group accepted the concept of king WAAAAY too easily. More easily than the king, really. And while she makes the women powerful, the very nature of kingship is that of shutting women out of the the highest power roles, and subservient in the power structure, which I find grating. Although to do otherwise would probably grate for others because of the mythological basis in a paternalistic warlike culture. I don't think enough was done to see them adjusting to acceding to obeying a king since they weren't raised to, even the ones who were raised with the relevant stories. I don't like ritual subservience generally, is more my point though. If you're going to bust out of the traditional mythos, go even bigger.

They're very into fighting. It's what they're needed for. After reading military based romances this doesn't bother me, but what does is that the couple who ran a dojo in their previous lives (before moving and rejoining the group) are somehow NOT the people in charge of personal combat training. I find that odd allocation of resources a little jarring.

I'm also of two minds about her tying the start of her Mayan mythos to Egypt. In reality, people migrated so it makes sense, but I think the story wouldn't suffer without it. Sky Keepers was the first book where the Egypt tie-in didn't just feel like an unnecessary add-on, in that it was more incorporated, but I don't think it added anything to do so, aside from having a defined start and reset points for the mythos. So unless it becomes increasingly necessary, I find myself wishing it was self-contained on the Americas with no ties to Egypt. Story elements that just add drag to a story for the sake of future books aren't always as necessary to a reader as an author thinks they are. If you include them, make sure they have a place in the story you're telling NOW, so when you reference it later it makes the reader feel like they had a bonus, not like they need to study up.

The relationships are done pretty well. In this last one, I thought hero boy Michael not opening up to either heroine Sasha or his king for most of the book was annoying but he had a good reason and it wound up working. The heroine in this book was particularly capable and good at keeping it real but still rolling with the paranormal punches. I really enjoyed Sasha particularly. The secondary characters are integrated. I wouldn't mind more detail from them but they're fine as is. I am concerned that their main baddy-bad Iago is the classic overable villain. How is it that he's so powerful and all-knowing, comparatively? I'm guessing the answer comes later because the characters ask this question too. At a guess, it takes a second to wreck it; it takes time to build. Villany is just easier than fighting villany because the means are part of the end. Still.

More positively, the big conflagration battle in this one didn't have everyone starting at empty like the last one, only to need to amp it up to 11 an improbable 5 or 6 times before the end. In this case there was some fighting, but the conclusion and abilities seemed more probable given the setup. And while the characters were stretched nearly to breaking, they were not ridiculously stretched thin.

That said, it's easier to find what annoys me than what doesn't generally and this "Final Prophecy" series is pretty good. It's not my favorite series ever or the easiest read, but I find it readable enough to keep picking up. Sky Keepers did not prompt me to pick up my pencil and "talk back" to the characters, which is something I've taken to doing when I get fed up with characters or writing. The story is dense enough to hold my interest, although I think it could use some tightening as I sometimes notice being infodumped the backstory. It's novel and the women are strong. She gives honor to pair bonds, family bond, friend bonds, and team bonds, as well as god and earth and home bonds. It's interesting enough for me to want to send my comments to the author as feedback, so the books get "better" although I'm not sure it would be helpful to her so much as it would be for me, so I'll leave it here and she can google it if she wants. Lastly, the bit about the books being set on the Mayan calendar means they pay particular homage to equinoxes and solstices. Like today. Proof that it's fiction, I'm not feeling any power surges like the characters do. I'm mostly just sleepy today.

I wonder what book is next on the TBR.


MarciaBC said...

Hey some of my pod have established friendly relations with Doc Jess, and based on their perceptions, I think she wouldn't mind getting a pluses and minuses list on the Keepers books, just in case you do want to pass them on.

I generally agree with your listed likes and dislikes on the series, although with the king thing, it seems the group are more willing to follow him because he was raised with the magic, and they are still feeling their way along. JMHO.


CrankyOtter said...

Feel free to pass the link along, or email selected portions to Doc Jess. Because I would like her books to succeed, but I'd also like them to make a little more sense.