Strangeness and Charm – Mike Shevdon

This is the further sequel to Sixty-One Nails and The Road to Bedlam (discussed below) and, alas, has more of the tone of the second than the first. I think I enjoyed it a little more than The Road to Bedlam, but I’m sad to say that it wasn’t much. It suffered from many of the same problems, as well as some exciting new problems of its own.

Firstly, characters. The shift in character behaviour from the first to second book is retained. Niall is still the annoying pseudo-hero of book two, only with more whingeing and incompetence; Blackbird is still… peculiar… somehow just characterised differently than book one, though at least she has regained some of the mystique she had to begin with; the Warders’ characters have joined in the shift, Garvin and Amber both slipping some of their composure and firmness of character for the sake of the plot (but at the expense of character continuity). And then there’s Alex. She doesn’t get all that much exposure in the other books, and often under circumstances where her character cannot much be divined. In Strangeness and Charm, she gets much more of a starring role, and that’s not something anyone should be pleased about. Alright, she is only fifteen… but that doesn’t make the sulking, ego-centricity and petulance any easier to bear. It’s like reading Harry Potter V all over again (though with slightly less shouting). Even leaving aside that the character of a fifteen year old girl is irritating, she’s not well written either. I do sympathise; it can’t be easy for an adult man to write a convincing teenage girl without the bias of portraying her as an annoying brat. But teenage girls are not necessarily the brats they come across, and he’d have done well to try to bring a little… humanity and realism to her character. One could perhaps argue that she is being seen through the eyes of her father. He is an adult man who doesn’t understand the workings of the mind of a teenage girl, to be sure. But if you were to say this, I’d still be fairly sure it was an elaborate lie to cover up the author’s inability to do teenage girl. Maybe I’m just being uncharitable.

Secondly, the style. The overwhelming impression I got while reading this book was “Dan Brown novel”. And that is never a good thing. It wasn’t just the superficial similarities either (symbols and keys and secrets and all); the tone felt the same. There was the same lack on insight, the same reliance on what, if I’m brutally honest, I reckon are facts gleaned from internet conspiracy theory sites. In the first book particularly, you got the sense that the author had really really researched the little historical aspects and had woven them cleverly into a well-planned, well-considered and beautifully rich fiction, deeply rooted in fairy folklore. This book is just an adventure novel with fairies. He maybe skimmed the internet for information on Crowley. Possibly. But the whole thing, plot and characters and setting and all, loses a lot for the lack of research and the lack of consideration. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he did research just as hard. But it doesn’t come across that way. And it is terrible, because Sixty-One Nails promised so much.

Lastly, a lot of plot points are left unresolved, or, at best, left as an exercise for the reader. I cannot go into specifics on this without spoilers, obviously, but there are several points which seem crucial or interesting to the overall plot and which never get settled. There is what might be considered a satisfactory conclusion, but it doesn’t tie in all the threads brought out across the book in the fully resolved way one expects of an accomplished novel. The whole thing feels ill-considered and amateurish. A sad outcome for someone who can clearly do better.

Overall, this novel suffers from a terrible case of Sequel. It is a downstep in quality from the second book (though I think the general idea of the plot is better and more enjoyable) which is in turn a downstep from the first. It is not terrible, and for all the comparison with Dan Brown, it is no Da Vinci Code (for which we must all be thankful), but neither is it, by any stretch, actually good. To anyone who had read the first book of the series, I would advise them to stop at that, lest the magic be lost.

Oh, and no Raffmir. And without him, really, what’s the point?

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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