Thursday, April 5, 2012
Red Sky At Dawn, by D.A. Adams
For a short summary of the plot, Roskin, Crushaw and company continue to liberate slaves across orcish lands. Eventually they fight a pitched battle with an orc garrison and manage to leave orc lands forever. The freed slaves now begin the long trek home and Roskin encounters numerous obstacles on his path. Of course it is vitally important for Roskin to return home as soon as possible because his kingdom has gone to war with the ogres, their former allies, under allegations that the ogres sold Roskin into slavery. Negotiation has failed and only Roskin can exonerate the ogres and end the bloodshed that threatens to destroy his kingdom.
Before I get into the issues I have with this book, I want to talk about a few things that I liked about the book. First, I liked parts of the story being told from the orc perspective. We are introduced to an orc character named Suvene at the beginning of the novel and we get to see several events from his perspective. Although Suvene's story does not go a long way towards humanizing him, it gave me a valued insight into orcish society and the underlying societal problems of their class structure. Maybe with time we can begin to empathize with Suvene and understand his plight, however his character has not developed to that point.
I also liked that the kingdom of the Kiredurks and the ogre tribes are drawn into a war because the heir to the Kiredurk kingdom has gone missing. Roskin is a fairly important person within his own kingdom and for him to suddenly disappear, presumably sold into slavery, would have huge repercussions in his homeland. So I liked that Adams included that plotline.
Finally, I liked the large battle sequences in the novel, of which there were about two or three. I thought the battles had a degree of realism in terms of tactics and strategies which I appreciated. As a somewhat avid player of Medieval II: Total War, I have come to appreciate the difficulties of managing armies of knights and archers in the field. So at least that part of the book I found to be well-researched and enjoyable.
Unfortunately there are a lot of minor issues I had with Red Sky at Dawn which added up to deep concerns about the direction of this series. My first major issue is geography. I know that it's become a cliche for fantasy novels to have lovingly-detailed maps of the world in which they're taking place, and it's something that's been around since Tolkien. However when you create an entire world from scratch and take us from the orc lands to the marshwogg peninsula to the Koorline Forest, I like to have some sort of frame of reference. Now, some fantasy novels are able to get away without having a map, such as The Neverending Story and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, but in those cases the references to geography were vague at best and ultimately irrelevant to the story, but in Red Sky at Dawn the geography is a major factor in the plot and so I would have liked some sort of reference to keep it all straight. I also bring up the map issue because two parties leave the same location heading for the same destination, however the second party which leaves much later than the first arrives at the destination ahead of the first party. This is explained in the book that the first party took a far more circuitous route, at which point I said to myself, "Man, I really wish I had a map so I could check that." Maybe there's a map in the paperback edition of this book, but since I only had the Kindle edition I felt like I was missing out.
The second issue I had with this book was the marshwoggs and the depiction of their society. Now, to expand a little just in book terms, the marshwoggs are a swamp-dwelling people with greenish-brown skin and webbed hands and feet, frog-people if you will. The marshwoggs live in a swampy peninsula, meaning no one's really interested in their land, and they have a sort of confederacy of small republics united in common defense but not much else. This is all very well and fine, but when Roskin encounters their system of government and taxation and compares it to the system in his home country is when I get problems. In his discussion of marshwogg politics, Roskin discovers that there is very little to no corruption in the marshwogg system, which is explained as a result of the very low salaries of government officials, as well as a system of checks and balances. Unfortunately I don't understand how low salaries would keep government officials from becoming corrupt, if anything I would think it would provide incentive for such corruption. It's not uncommon for government officials to use their positions of authority for their own financial gain, even if they're well-paid. Maybe I'm just a cynic when it comes to the behavior of sentient beings but I'm pretty sure there would be plenty of marshwoggs exploiting political office for financial reasons. I also was hesitant to accept that their capitalist system was far better than whatever system the dwarves have, in part because there wasn't an extensive explanation of how the dwarven economic system works and a comparison with the marshwogg system. It was simply mentioned that marshwoggs had more stores, more goods in those stores, and a greater variety of goods than in dwarven communities. On the one hand you can say that because of their economic policies the dwarves have entered a period of stagnation while the marshwoggs continue to expand and innovate. But on the other hand you could say the dwarves emphasize moderation and restraint while the marshwoggs are rampant consumerists. I just felt like Adams could have explored the issues a little better and built a stronger argument, instead I was left with the impression that the marshwogg system was better just because.
I also would have liked more exploration of the Kiredurk-ogre war happening in the north because Roskin has gone missing. There is a chapter towards the beginning that talks about the beginnings of the war and the attempts, at least by dwarven officials, to prevent this war from happening. However the ogres, for whatever reason, refuse to negotiate and war breaks out anyway. Finally towards the end of the book we see that the war has ground to a stalemate with heavy casualties on both sides and bitter feelings, however the return of Roskin might change that. The reason I bring this up is that in the book it is mentioned the ogres are not behaving as they usually do, which made me curious about why they were so hell-bent on going to war with the dwarves. Especially since they were long-time allies, much like the United States going to war with Canada. We've been friends for a really long time, going to war just doesn't make sense. We even meet some ogres in exile who refused to go to war with the dwarves so I feel like there is more to this war than Adams showed us in the book and I really hope the next book explores this issue more thoroughly.
My final problem with the book is it felt kind of haphazard. The introduction of Suvene, while useful, takes some focus off of Roskin and Crushaw. Focus which I felt could have been better utilized, especially when it came to the war. In addition a lot of travel happens off-screen, which is fine if nothing happens, but I was left feeling like this was just a string of events following each other rather than any sort of journey.
I definitely feel like this book was weaker than the previous one, and I hope that it just ends up being a fluke in the series. Unfortunately if you're also interested in reading this series you kind of have to read this one for plot purposes. I'll let my readers know how the third one turns out and probably make a decision then whether or not to continue with this series.