Saturday, October 3, 2009

Curse of the Tahiera by Wendy Gillissen

Curse of the Tahiera is the story of Rom, a young man who has borne the brunt of everyone's prejudices since he was a baby because of the way he looks: he is an obvious Tzanatzi. It doesn't matter that he is half-Tzanatzi, that his mother was a Southerner; he looks Tzanatzi and that is enough to make him a feared and hated outsider no matter where he goes or what he does. When he is forced to leave his village to make enough money to feed himself through winter by going north to trade, he runs into Yldich, an Einache traveler who is much more than he seems. Despite Rom's misgivings, Yldich joins his travels and thus a conclusion to events 500 years in the making is set in motion. This is also very much the tale of Rom's path to healing, an internal journey that, for me, was as fascinating as the external events. Like Elena, I was concerned at the beginning that the book was going to be a sort of heavy spiritual morality tale (I was probably led this direction by the blurbs; I think we all know now how I feel about blurbs) but as I continued to read, the story more than carried its own weight.

So, let me get my problems out of the way first, as they're mostly mechanical, before I get into what I liked. First of all, I had a lot of problems with the formatting of the dialogue. A lot of the time it's very difficult to figure out who is talking based on the structure, and I realized as I was reading how reliant we sometimes are on structural cues to identify things like who said what and who thought what and who that sentence is describing. The main reason this was an issue for me was because it pulled me out of the story, created what I felt was probably an artificial distance, because I was constantly having to go back and figure out who said what. And dialogue is an important part of this story; there's a lot of it, so it was a lot of detective work and that was pretty frustrating at times.

The second problem I had is something that isn't going to be a problem for everyone. Towards the end of the novel, as the plot starts to pick up pace, the perspective changes start to come fast and furious which makes things feel a little choppy. Again, it was taking me out of the story trying to figure out who was what, where. Changes in perspective are something I notice a lot in books, and I tend to be a reader who prefers just one or possibly two perspectives.

And both good and bad, this book is slow, and long. I enjoyed the slow pace, the way the story unfolds gradually; nothing felt forced or rushed. But it is a long book to have that slow pace, and when the pace does pick up, it keeps up for a long time, which left me feeling a bit breathless and rushed, particularly after the slow pace before it.

However, those little complaints weren't enough to distract me from the things I did enjoy. This is a very well-crafted plot, carefully thought out and carefully woven together. Gillissen has done an excellent job of taking different threads and pulling them together into what eventually becomes a very complex tale, and though much of what happens at the end is set up ahead of time, there were still a few surprises left at the end for a satisfying conclusion. I liked the characters. I particularly liked Rom, despite the fact that occasionally I wanted to shake him; I am pretty sure I was supposed to want to shake him.

But what I enjoyed most was something that started to become very clear midway through the novel. There is no good or evil in this story, although there are people we cheer for and those we are assuredly not cheering for. It's set up in such a way that the "villains" are not categorically villified except by those whose prejudices are clear, so that even the great "evil" sorcerer in the story inspires both pity and understanding. There is a distinct ambiguity, often quite subtle (and sometimes not) about who is right and who is wrong, leaving the reader with a sense that no one, except perhaps Yldich, is ever entirely one or the other.

Yldich is always right. But I liked that; it made sense for his character. Even when he felt uncomfortable with himself, he was always right in the end, and while sometimes that seems like an impossible feat for a character, Gillissen wrote Yldich so well that it was never overbearing or ridiculous. It was just the way it should be. Also, it's through Yldich that one of the greatest characteristics of Gillissen's writing shines: her gentle sense of humour. This is not a funny novel, but there were often points that made me smile.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. It is probably not for everyone; the slow pace, the philosophical bent, may put some off. But I liked it, and I'm grateful I had a chance to read it. I am nearly positive I would have overlooked it if Gillissen hadn't approached me.

That said, and this has nothing to do with the book but everything to do with me, I have learned something new. I shouldn't accept books from authors for review. I get unsettled about challenges and giveaways, because I feel I have to do something reading and blog related. I have discovered that accepting an author's novel from the author herself stresses me out ten times worse. Because I have agreed to take something that they have worked hard on, a piece of them, really, and read it and review it and though Gillissen was very gracious and didn't give me a deadline, I felt badly every time I looked at her novel in the TBR basket and didn't review it. Too much self-imposed pressure, and I think that once I have let that go I'll take the chance to read this book again.

Thank you Wendy, for giving me this opportunity, and for introducing me to a new world and especially new characters who will stay with me for a while.


Wendy Gillissen said...

Dear Kiirstin,
Thank you for your elaborate and carefully crafted review. I very much appreciate it and I’m happy you enjoyed the story despite the little kinks in the lay-out. I know for a fact they will be resolved in the next edition:-)

I am especially pleased you appreciated the good vs. evil ambiguity – for me, an important theme in the story and a major reason for its conception.

I can fully relate to the self-imposed pressure – I would be the same! So I’d like to say I have tremendous admiration for anyone managing to review books at all, let alone a book a week;)
Thanks again, Wendy

Unknown said...

Wendy, you are welcome! As above, I thought you did a really nice job of the "good" vs. "evil" and also showing the mundane evil of ignorance and prejudice, but you never got preachy about it, which is something that always turns me off books. It grew naturally right out of the story and I really liked that.

Thanks for your comment! It means a lot.