Thursday, December 10, 2015

Bonded, by Mande Matthews

This week I'm reviewing another book contained in an e-book collection called Epic I bought from Amazon. This particular book, Bonded, is the first in a planned trilogy from Mande Matthews which in her own words is described as a combination of Norse mythology and the Hero's Journey as described by Campbell. For my readers who might be somehow unfamiliar with the concept of the Hero's Journey a.k.a. monomyth, you can find an entertaining and educational video here.

I would provide a brief overview of the plot for Bonded, but I'm kind of at a loss because I felt like the plot was by far the weakest part of Bonded, especially in what it lacked as a monomyth. Basically we have the main characters of Hallad and Erik, along with Erik's brother Rolf, who are out in the forest one day with Hallad's little sister Emma. They meet a mysterious woman in the forest, and suddenly a shadow appears that kidnaps Emma. Very simple plot hook, Emma (both Hallad's sister and Erik's love interest) has been kidnapped so a quest must be undertaken to rescue her. Throughout the book there are statements that imply Emma's kidnapping is part of a much larger plot, but throughout the entire book we're never given specific information about what this plot is. We get some vague information about a prophecy, Hallad being the chosen one, and we meet Lothar who's an underling for the Big Bad referred to only as the Shadow but possibly may be Loki. The plot is very vague on this point which actually makes it weaker as a book in my opinion.

The thing about the monomyth is that it doesn't do subtle. That's probably one of its greatest strengths and why it's persisted for thousands of years. There are very obvious good guys and very obvious bad guys and perhaps more importantly the stakes of the good guys losing are made incredibly clear. For example, in Star Wars you know that the Empire are the bad guys because they have the Death Star, which can blow up planets. Generally, good people don't go around blowing up planets. On top of that, if the Rebellion doesn't stop the Empire they'll keep going on blowing up planets. And that's bad. Or for another classic example, take Lord of the Rings. If Sauron recovers the One Ring, he'll cover all of Middle Earth in darkness. Forever. Also bad. The problem with Bonded was I never learned what exactly the bad guy was planning. There was something sinister afoot, I was assured of that much, but aside from Emma getting kidnapped the bad guys didn't really seem to do anything. And I still feel a little vague on who exactly the bad guy is in this story.

The reason I feel vague on who the heroes and villains are is because of how things work in Alvenheim, a realm the heroes aren't from but a lot of the action takes place in. Basically the majority of residents have magical powers which make them connected with the realm of Alvenheim and allow them to call upon the world to give them food, clothing, shelter, heat, pretty much everything humans need to survive. Fruit is not picked from trees, but rather freely given when asked for. Fires are not created because they cause pain to the world. Instead heat and light are called forth and provided. However, there is a very small fraction of the population which is born without magical abilities. They are completely dependent on others to provide for their needs because they cannot call upon Alvenheim to provide their needs. As a result the majority despises those unable to do magic and sees them as little more than worthless parasites who should be left to die of starvation and exposure.

Those without magic, left to fend for themselves, light fires, hunt animals, and do various other things normal people do to keep themselves alive. Furthermore the non-magical become outright brazen with their behavior because to the non-magical doing as little as picking a flower is worthy of the death penalty. So in the vein of  "may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb" the non-magical people burn the land and boil the sea (sorry, couldn't resist) because they're going to get killed regardless of what they do, may as well get some good old revenge in while they're at it. Which although not explicitly stated, has left me with the impression of a bitter civil war between the two.

Why is this relevant? Well Lothar, the chief minion of the Big Bad and main bad guy for this book, is actually trying to help the non-magical. Granted, he's doing so for his own selfish ends (or so we're told), but he's the only person in the book who treats the non-magical as human beings rather than parasites. It certainly puts a damper on the whole monomyth if you show the bad guy working to help people who are risking death just to feed themselves and their children. Because that sounds like a very good guy sort of thing to do, kidnappings aside.

Otherwise, I felt like a lot of the book was spent sitting around waiting. The characters didn't know a lot of information, so they'd stumble around or sit around and wait and maybe get a little bit of information revealed to them, but not terribly much. I even got the feeling that the main characters got tired of waiting and rushed off into the unknown because they got as bored as I was. As I reached the halfway point I was just forcing myself through but losing any hope of getting a better explanation of what was happening, rather than some events which are tied to a mysterious and sinister plot.

Overall, I didn't really care for this book. The inclusion of Norse mythology is a nice touch and the author has definitely done her research on that subject. But plot wise I felt like this book was a bit of a mess, especially for something trying to follow the monomyth. There's a bad guy, but he seems to have very limited goals and the stakes are fairly small for a monomyth story. Plus, if your bad guy is helping people in trouble it makes him a little less of a bad guy. I'd recommend passing on this one.

- Kalpar

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