Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Falcon Throne, by Karen Miller

Today I'm looking at the first in a newer fantasy series, The Falcon Throne, which deals with two duchies, Clemen and
Harcia, which were once united under one kingdom but have been split for about two hundred years. The book jumps through about twenty years of events within both duchies, as well as some events further abroad, and we are shown that there are larger powers at work than just the nobles contesting for the Falcon Throne and leaves the future of the duchies, as well as the wider world, in considerable doubt.

The book splits its focus between three main groups of characters. In the north we have the ruling family of the duchy of Harcia, Duke Aimery, along with his sons Balfre and Grefin. Balfre is Aimery's oldest surviving son but extremely violent and ill-tempered and harbors dreams of reuniting the two duchies under one crown at swordpoint. This dismays his father and younger brother, who desire peace between the two duchies and accept that the split appears permanent.

To the south is Duke Harald of Clemen, a despicable tyrant who has driven a group of his nobles to hatch a plan to depose him and replace him with his bastard-born cousin, Ederic. Harald gets bumped off pretty early in the book so most of the action in Clemen is Ederic trying to repair the damage Harald has done and struggling as Clemen suffers catastrophe after catastrophe under his reign.

Finally there is Liam in the Marches, the border region between the two duchies. Liam is Harald's natural born son, rescued by his nurse from the castle the night his parents are killed and raised in obscurity at an inn in the center of the Marches. Only Liam and his nurse know his true identity, but Liam is no less determined to regain his throne. There are some other plots as well but they don't get nearly as much attention as these other three.

The biggest thing I felt about this book was it was trying very hard to be like Game of Thrones, but it fell far short of the quality that makes people love the heck out of that series. One of the things was I never felt very emotionally invested in any of the characters. Martin has a way of making characters seem three dimensional and provoking an emotional reaction from the reader. Miller's characters just feel flat by comparison. A good example is comparing Balfre versus Joffrey. They're both pretty nasty pieces of work that you would never, ever want in a position of authority but thanks to monarchy thousands of people will be ruled by these terrible individuals. But Joffrey provokes far more of an emotional reaction out of me than Balfre does. It's not a positive reaction, but I don't think there's anybody familiar with Game of Thrones that doesn't love to hate Joffrey. And that makes him a much better character because he provokes an emotional response from the audience.

Balfre, by comparison, is just kind of annoying.I dislike him, but it never goes beyond a mild, ''Oh great, another power-hungry maniac that's determined to make himself king'' dislike. Joffrey I wanted to punch in the face so, so many times and I was actually happy when he [SPOILERS SPOILER SPOILERS]. But Balfre I just wanted to go away and stop bothering me with his evil moustache-twirling.

This becomes even weaker when it comes to characters we're supposed to like. There's such a plethora of well-written characters in Game of Thrones that everyone has their own favorite. Whether it's Jon Snow, Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, or my personal favorite, Davos Seaworth, you have characters that are interesting and you actually care about. Which is why people get so upset when Martin kills people off, we actually cares what happens to them. And a number of people do get killed off in this book, but when it happened I found myself just...not caring. Which I don't think is a good sign for your book if your reader isn't emotionally invested in your characters.

Another way I felt this book was trying to be like Game of Thrones was by being ''edgy'' compared to some of the more ''traditional'' fantasy. Aside from the sheer number of great characters, Game of Thrones is also famous for its ridiculous amount of gratuitous sex and violence, which even in Game of Thrones can get a little excessive. But the biggest way The Falcon Throne seemed to do this was by having the word fuck be used a lot. It just feels like a very unsophisticated way to make the book seem edgier.

Although I think the biggest problem this book had was scale. Let me get a map just for sake of comparison here.

Okay, you see those two itty bitty islands up in the top left corner of the map? That's where around 97% of the action in this book takes place. There's some stuff that happens outside the island, but for the most part it's all up in those two little islands. Now, you've all probably seen this before, but let's pull up Westeros.

So here we've got stuff going on all over that big landmass to the left of the map, and then there's stuff going on in other parts of the map as well. We're talking about events that are continent-spanning in their scope and threaten to change the fate of the entire world. But with The Falcon Throne? We're basically looking at a border dispute between two neighbors on a tiny island. It just doesn't have the same feel of epic magnitude that Game of Thrones which makes it feel just not as important a conflict. And by jumping through events over a twenty year period, while important in helping Liam get old enough to be able to contest his throne, it also makes it seem like there wasn't enough material to make the book as long as it was and it makes me wonder what the later books in this series would talk about.

Ultimately this book doesn't really have anything to recommend it. There's a larger, darker plot going on but for the most part it seems like a dispute over who gets to be in charge of a tiny little island in a much larger world. And because none of the characters spark my interest, I find myself not caring who ends up sitting in the fancy chair. Considering how darn long this book is and how much of a disappointment it was, I would definitely recommend staying away from it.

- Kalpar

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