RogerBW's Blog

The Sleeping God, Violette Malan 12 September 2014

Lightweight but lengthy fantasy, the first in the Dhulyn and Parno series.

Dhulyn and Parno are Mercenaries, and Partners, and Dhulyn is Marked as a Seer, and if I have to type any more Significant Capitals my shift key may go on strike. There's a witch-hunt going on for other Marked people (those with minor psychic talents), with some obvious and unsubtle parallels about the ethics of identifying Jews for the Nazis, though here the Nazis are another stock Church of No Redeeming Virtues. Better than that for me is the way that everyone who dies feels like a real person, and the world seems poorer for their absence from it.

We don't get many of the usual fantasy tropes: no wizards, no lightweight monsters for the heroes to slaughter in huge numbers, no Dark Lord. There is a non-human behind a lot of what's going on, and it's very nicely drawn as a truly alien being, but its powers are strictly constrained, for all that the procedure for dealing with it is distinctly less obvious than the protagonists would like.

There's a certain amount of telling over showing. We're told that a Mercenary Partner is a lifemate (you can sleep with other people, but your Partner has your back; fair enough), but while Dhulyn and Parno come across as a couple who've been together for a while there isn't quite that sense of absolute trust that I'd expect to go along with such a relationship. At the same time they're a bit too perfect in other respects, with no significant flaws between them. This feels like a series entry, not the book that introduces the characters or indeed the world; the protagonists obviously have plenty of history together, but while Malan's happy to talk about the past of the minor characters she says rather less about the background of the principals. Similarly, while the "Jaldeans" seem to run churches, we have no idea why they're called that, or what they actually do when their New Believer faction isn't chasing down the Marked. (But at least it is a faction, rather than a complete Evil Church.)

Pacing is a bit of a problem at first, not helped by weird naming conventions and rather too many characters introduced too quickly. Which one's "Dal-eLad" again? Things pick up towards the middle of the book as political machinations come to a head, then trail off in the end, when the activities of the villain (lots of The Thing-style wondering which apparent friend is now under his influence) simply stop without obvious diegetic reason in order to let the heroes pull off the key world-saving move.

The actual writing is decent, without major errors (something unusual these days). There's an unfortunate misuse of may for might, but otherwise Malan writes correctly and effectively.

This is a distinctly flawed book, and tighter editing could have made it a more pleasurable as well as a shorter read, but it's nonetheless surprisingly enjoyable.

Followed by The Soldier King.

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