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- Author: Ken Scholes
- Publisher: Tor
- Genre: Fantasy
- Format: Hardback, 400 pages
- Book Series: The Psalms of Isaak
Book Review: Requiem
Where interesting world building is hamstrung by clumsy narrative shifting.
By Chuck Francisco
July 08, 2013
Reading a book functions similarly to a trip to the amusement park. Some works of literature are like The Graviton, following one narrator and providing a consistent voice no matter which seat is selected. Since each spot offers the same level of adventure, it's easy avoiding severe dips in fun throughout the ride's duration. Conversely some books employ a number of narrative voices, offering a fuller view of the amusement park's landscape via shifts in placement and perspective. Like a merry-go-round, different beasts are provided to make the journey with, themselves bobbing up and down to varying heights. If this is so then authors need take great care in maintaining their individual mounts, as any broken or uninteresting characters bring down the whole experience.
This is the major failing of Requiem, book four of the Psalms of Isaak pentalogy. Switching rapidly between the perspectives of nearly ten individual characters of wildly varying levels, readers will frequently have their patience tested. Several of the protagonists are embroiled in compelling adventures which tug at the imagination. Solidly more than half of the narratives plod on and on, failing to engage, and in some cases trying endurance beyond the point of continued interest. The change over is rapid, occurring every three to six pages, never fully allowing readers to become invested in any plot thread since a turnover is inevitably forthcoming.
Requiem is also problematic in its easy of entry. Those new to the series will have difficulty acclimating to the alien systems of government, military groupings, religious cannon, and deep world history present as a staple of the series. No efforts seems to have been put into explaining these complex elements within the narrative and so, unlike many series which strive to welcome no readers into the fold mid ride, The Psalms of Isaak series books need be read in order. A meaty glossary of characters, countries, gods, and places totaling well over thirty pages follows at the end of the novel, but there's no mention of it at the front end of the book; most readers are liable to simply stumble upon it after having completed the story- a point where its usefulness is severely diminished.
Despite its uneven narrative and the high barrier for entry, there is a rich world here to be fully explored; two in fact. Action unfolds on both the spoiled main world and its lush, jungle covered moon. Political maneuvering is rendered doubly deadly since each side employs scouts/assassins who can become invisible using blood magic. This has given rise to a method of communication similar to morse code via tapping on the receiver's body. Combat has also taken on an intimately close quarters style, with nearly everyone employing razor sharp daggers. The agendas of a number of factions clash in plans long in the making. It's all so disappointing when considering the frustration inherent in the narrative.
The unique cultures presented are intriguing and the worlds tease at the imagination, making no doubt the strongest argument for Requiem, but the narrative structure works directly against the ability to enjoy those strengths. Requiem absolutely has a built in audience who are enamored with these characters, and it's these folks who will get the most out of this work. Everyone else may want to check out the first book in the series, Lamentation or something else entirely. Requiem is available now from Tor Books in hardback for $27.99.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.