Sunday, 5 February 2012

Review | Restoration - Carol Berg

Another book picked up second hand, Restoration is a novel that's been recommended to me several times - so past time that I actually read it! The final book in the Rai-kirah trilogy, it's an odd mix: subverting some traditional tropes, but playing other quite straight. But we'll get to that. At any rate, the trilogy is notable largely for its protagonist: Seyonne, by the time of Restoration ex-slave, current sorcerer, and betrayer of his people's ancient war. I've always had a soft spot for a protagonist who goes against his initial convictions (those particular revelation scenes make some of the best), and Seyonne definitely counts. For centuries his people, the Ezzarians, have fought a war against demons: the Rai-kirah. Now Seyonne has found out their mistake, and joined his soul to a Rai-kirah - becoming what his people hate most. But now he must confront the origins of his people, and decide whether to free an imprisoned god.

His friend and former master (long story), Aleksander (Crown Prince of the Derzhi) is in worse trouble. Accused of the murder of his father and bereft of support, he's going to have to win his empire back: and confront the atrocities of his people. And to do that, he needs - well, Seyonne...

From that brief description, you might think Seyonne a typically martial sorcerer - casting Dungeons-and-Dragons-esque spells left, right and centre to solve his problems (albeit in a terribly stereotypical way). He's not. While Seyonne is a sorcerer, the resolutions to his problems rarely come through said magic: in fact, it generally causes the problems in the first place. Which is a good thing! While I enjoy magic in a story, using it for resolution feels like cheating. And Seyonne generally succeeds because he's careful, thoughtful - not because he can make bigger magical firestorms than everybody else.

...Although he can. But that's not the point.

I enjoy a good duo, and Seyonne and Aleksander definitely fit. They're practically opposites, both in terms of station and personality, which leads to a fair amount of conflict despite their friendship. For fans of humourous (or simply vitriolic) banter, there's not much: they're not as fun a couple as (to take an example) Royce and Hadrian of The Riyria Revelations.

There is one area in which Restoration falls short, however - though it isn't alone. Aleksander's struggle to regain his position, a main focus of the novel's first half, simply disappears for the duration of the ending. something that I find a little unwelcome: Seyonne is an interesting protagonist, but to focus solely on him for this long-ish period makes the following post-climax epilogue seem to come from nowhere - a little fairytale-ish. Despite this, Restoration isn't a bad book at all. It has a thoughtful protagonist, a tendancy to avoid magic for resolution (which is both rare and welcome) - and the epic trappings of falling empires, imprisoned gods, and a hefty dose of magic. It's not exceptional, but it is a worthy read.

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