- TITLE: The Broken Isles (Legends of the Red Sun #4)
- AUTHOR: Mark Charan Newton
- PUBLISHER: Tor (UK)
- PUBLICATION DATE: 5th July 2012
When I first read Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin a short few months later, I was swept away and amazed by a world of infinite promise and possibility. When I read The Book of Transformations last year, I was shown the scope of a writer’s imagination, whilst being introduced a subtle political agenda that was interwoven with a long-standing plot. In the interests of full disclosure, with a year to ruminate on the book—and its place in the series as a whole—I began to have doubts as to its place in regards to the series as a whole. (I gave it a five-star review last year and revisited it positively, but after a long year of discussion with my brother (my SFF debate partner in crime) I would probably give it a 4.5 if I read it from scratch now.)
Quite possibly the worst thing about The Broken Isles is that it seems to render the entirety of The Book of Transformations completely redundant. A single event occurs at the end of the previous book that has any bearing or relevance on the next. The whole book and its characters are swept under the carpet and it quite honestly feels as though it never existed. I had to keep catching myself from referring to the series as a trilogy, and not classing City of Ruin as the book that came before. This, in regards to a book I had previously given five-stars to.
There’s something up with that.
Having just read a book (Ashes of a Black Frost, Chris Evans) wherein a series comes to an end, and having finished Jon Sprunk’s Shadow Saga earlier this year, I feel I’m in the correct readerly mindset of how to end a book and what to expect. I did not get what I expected.
I’ll say now I’m giving this book a 2.75 and damn it it pains me to do that: to award the final book of an otherwise stellar series feels…awkward and wrong somehow. I wanted to award a 3.5 and then there were elements of the book that kept chipping away until we were left with the rating I’ve settled on. I didn’t hate the book and it doesn’t deserve a verbal flogging, and neither does the writer. But therein perhaps is the problem. I’ve seen writers bothered by “meh” reviews much more than angry ones. This is a meh review.
Having already said that it felt Broken Isles rendered its predecessor irrelevant, I’ll go on to say that I was disappointed to see that any remaining characters seemed to be shooed away and ditched at the earliest opportunity. One result of this was a totally absurd scene that seemed to have no purpose, no point and seemed to hover between comedic and melodramatic. I’m not sure what to make of it, or why it was there. I feel that if Newton didn’t know what to do with the characters he crafted in The Book of Transformations, then perhaps he shouldn’t have brought them into the final part with him. But then, they served a specific purpose. However, once that purpose is fulfilled, snap, gone. I didn’t understand this and in my honest opinion it quite literally served no purpose whatsoever.
The pacing seemed somewhat crooked and jarred and, as much as I warmed to Jeza, the newest PoV character, her inner monologue at times served only to convey the world, clinically, through the eyes of a type of character the reader hadn’t yet experienced throughout the series. She didn’t read internally like the age she was, or the type of girl she is made out to be. She jarred on every psychological level. She was, however, an interesting character and one of the better narrative points in the book, despite the issues. Overall, I did like Jeza—which made her falling short of hitting the mark all the harder to chew on.
In regards to the pacing, it seemed to plod along slowly only to trip and present us with a scene that seemed to last a mere hundred words at times, and then skip ahead. It was jerky and mechanic and so very clinical. Where was the magic that swept me away in the first two books? Maybe I missed something, but no matter where I looked, it wasn’t there.
This seems to have been a book bent on shooing surplus characters leftover from The Book of Transformations, whilst plodding mechanically towards a great and climatic culmination—one that is never truly reached or realised in the end. For a book that tells the story of gang uprisings, the integration of new races (which brings with it issues of racism, equality and tolerance), and most importantly, the final battle that is quite literally fought to save a whole world… a whole lot of nothing seems to happen. There’s no urgency. The plodding pace perhaps is to blame for this, but it’s not entirely to blame when any pace or action or urgency that could have been built up was knocked down immediately by (seemingly) totally irrelevant plotlines.
A character’s madness seems a convenient plot device to remove them from the picture in lieu of who Newton must have wanted to lead the new Empire—else why would they have been removed in the first place? There seemed no logic to that particular thread of the plot, and much like the removal of surplus characters from The Book of Transformations, it seemed utterly convenient and half-hearted. In parts, it appeared to only paint a more vivid picture of the grimdark aspect, and nothing else besides.
The crux of the matter is that there was no sense of danger or panic or urgency and the writing seemed detached and clinical. Those are my major technical issues, which go hand in with the more technical plot issues I’ve touched on. There’s too much to say without spoilers, so I’ll refrain and address them more deeply and alongside the rest of the series when I post my revisit of the series as a whole.
But it wasn’t a bad book: there was nothing to hate about it, nothing to get angry or annoyed about, no reason to moan about it. It was in a sense, a “satisfying” ending of a sort in that it has a happy ending. Not going to dance around that as a spoiler; anyone who doesn’t want to know if a book ends happily has been reading too much death, death, pain, pain. It has a happy ending, an ending filled with promise and infinite possibility—and that’s precisely what I wanted.
The redeeming point of the book was Brynd. Of course the redeeming point was the homosexual, albino commander, who has, by far, been the strongest and most fleshed out and real character of the whole series. Brynd, forced to turn politician after the death of the Emperor and the battle in Viliren, put me in mind of Captain Sheridan from Babylon 5. This is a good comparison. I felt that the series had echoed the plot arc involving the Shadows and Vorlons for some time (“giants in the playground” – a quote from Sheridan illustrates this perfectly, and when we throw in the figure of Frater Mercury who echoes Lorien to an extent, the scene is very alike whilst maintaining its originality) and this developed further as Brynd waged war on two fronts: political and otherwise.
Brynd was the most enjoyable aspect of the whole book and it was a fantastic idea to end on his viewpoint, which allowed for a very enjoyable, satisfying and fairly light-hearted close to the book: Brynd’s off to get laid, and laid well, and without fear of persecution. It was a beautiful touch and possibly the highlight of the book. That single scene felt like a return to the personality and magic of Nights and City. So, it was a damn good place to end the book.
Overall, the book served the purpose of ending a series and little more besides. It felt like an awkward yet necessary read, and although I did get closure on the Legends of the Red Sun as I clicked Archimedes, my trusty Kindle, to the 100% bar, I was left wanting. I was left wanting so much more. All in all, it wasn’t a great end to a fantastic series: it was a slow plod towards the finale, which fell short of expectations, only then to soothe that annoyance with a delightful snippet of how the world might be remade in the wake of death and destruction that almost brought a civilization to its knees. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and maybe I missed something that made it superb, or maybe I’d grown weary of the belaboured weird and just wanted a slightly quirky fantasy novel that broke a few expectations and played with a few rules.
The Broken Isles didn’t deliver that, like its predecessors did, but it certainly died trying: the series’ vast imagination and bundles of potential seemed to just…get lost…somewhere along the way. Nevertheless, any fan of the Legends of the Red Sun series should and must read this, if only to breathe a slight sigh of relief at the end that everything can be okay. I’m a damn sucker for a happy ending, and this just about fits the bill, so I’ll take what I’m given and remember the series through its characters and the books that came before, instead of through one unlucky book that just didn’t quite work.