18 June 2011

The Eyes of a King by Catherine Banner

Leo North has spent five years remembering—remembering and writing about the time in his life when his prospects, although limited, still existed.  He has recalled the tediousness of attending military school and the oppressiveness of living with his pious, fearful grandmother and his younger brother, Stirling.  He has conjured up memories of the reluctance he felt about using his innate magical powers.  He has relived the moment when everything changed.

Five years ago, Leo found a blank book in the snow and immediately sensed its power.  Words started to appear on the pages.  Passages wove together his family’s past, the history of his country, Malonia—and that of a parallel world called England, where Ryan, the heir to the Malonian throne, was exiled.  At the same time, the all-too-real challenges of his life closed in on him.  And the book, initially an escape, became inextricably linked to Leo and his world.

Leo has written about the painful events he experienced when his seemingly narrow path took some unexpected tragic turns and he found himself on a journey from which he never really returned.  He has spent five years retracing his steps and filling in the blanks.  This is Leo’s explanation.  This is the book.

I read somewhere that Catherine Banner was slated to be the next J.K. Rowling.  I’m sure whoever said it had good intentions but I’m left going, Um no.  The book was exciting at first because it was different, but soon, the flaws began to stand out.  The writing began to show a amateur-istic choppiness.  Then, the plot just didn’t make sense and by the end of it, I was left skimming the pages.  I wish I had gotten more out of this because I think the idea was clever, but being dragged out over four hundred pages and squandered with raw writing?  The idea starts to lose its luster.

The first thing is the writing.  It was choppy.  But that was all, because even choppiness can be brilliant (look at Maria V. Snyder).  It lacked that critical personal element that makes the readers care about the characters.  When tragedy hits halfway through the story, I’m left feeling sympathetic because it’s sad by nature, but I had no emotional take in it.  And Leo’s reaction…It was stretched over the rest of the book—more than two hundred pages of the exact same thing over and over and over and over again.  The repetition was just annoying after a while.  Then, when the romance came in, I was just like…”Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.” There was simply no emotional depth.  I just didn’t get it.

The characters didn’t make sense, either.  I didn’t like any of them.  Not Leo, the main character.  Not Grandmother.  Not Maria.  Maria!  That girl had no place in this story.

That was my main issue, right there.  Nothing really had a set place.  I’m expecting everything to be so Its Own that it can’t be left out without the story falling apart.  If it isn’t needed, then I don’t want to read about it.  Maria didn’t hold a critical part, neither did her story, which took forever to get out and wasn’t that surprising. 

When I pick up a book—especially a fantasy—I’m expecting some type of “tightness” about the plot.  Consider Cinda Williams Chima.  Her fantasy books—The Demon King and The Exiled Queen—are thick.  Over five hundred pages each.  Over that considerable amount of length, she doesn’t let anything go to waste.  She uses everything.  Meaning, something she mentions in the beginning of the story becomes significant later on.  All her character’s subplots are critical to the main plot.  With Eyes of a King, there was no tightness.  With the parallel world aspect, the two plots should have been so tightly bound that you shouldn’t have been able to tell them apart.  I feel that the separate stories barely affected each other.

Not only was the plot not tight, but it was cliché.  The romance with Ryan, the story with Aldebaran…And the dialogue was poor.  The lines of one character could come from any other character.  There was no differentiating feature between them.

The writing could have stood for some serious polishing.  There’s a difference between describing the rain outside to just describe it versus using the rain as a backdrop and tool to get to the bigger picture.  And I think putting it in first person was a mistake.  The emotional distance between the reader and the characters was simply accentuated by the use of “I”. 

However, there were a few diamonds amongst all the roughness.  For example:
There was an atmosphere of disquiet in that strange town.  Horses shifted and puffed steam in the damp evening air, and the men who walk around did not talk or smile.  There were Malonian flags everywhere, grubby and damp, and they flapped like sickening birds against the buildings.
Excerpted from the hardcover, US edition, page 251.

Overall however, I was just not impressed. I was so excited to read this book because I’d had the name “Catherine Banner” down on my authors-to-investigate list for months and I finally found her book in the library.  She apparently started this book when she was fourteen and she was showcased in a prestigious British gallery for inspiring young Britons.  But I don’t see the hype.  I might pick up the next book because I know how an author’s writing can change as they mature as a writer.  (Again, see Cinda Williams Chima.)

Book Info: (for the US edition)
  • pages – hardcover, 435
  • published – May 2008
  • publisher – Random House for Young Readers
  • genre – fantasy
  • rating – 2/5
  • received via – library :)