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Saturday, 13 July 2013

Worldstorm by James Lovegrove

I picked this up in Hay-on-Wye, I had no real preconceptions. I could just about gather that it was a fantasy novel, but otherwise the blurb was spectacularly unhelpful. Now that I've finished it, I have very little idea of how to express what opinion it left me with.

The plot of Worldstorm is a tad difficult to explain, simply because the narrative doesn't really act like a traditional fantasy narrative. On the one hand, it does initially follow a quest-style fantasy narrative. In it, Elder Ayn, a scholar who has mastered the ability to see into his own future, sets out into the world with his scribe Khollo, in order to find a way to stop the destruction of the eponymous Worldstorm. To do this, he must find two additional companions: Gregory, a boy who has bucked the family trend by not having fire-based powers, and Yashu, an islander seemingly without powers of any kind. That seems straightforward enough, until I consider the pacing. In most novels, fantasy or not, the main characters are usually forced to team up within the first few chapters. Not so here; instead, it takes nearly 3/4 of the narrative to get everyone together. In the meantime, each of them are essentially having their own mini-adventures. Don't get me wrong, these aren't bad story-lines in and of themselves, they just didn't feel like they really should have meshed together as they did.
The characterisation and world-building are fantastic. Each of the main characters, as well as a few of the secondary characters that pop up, are fleshed out fantastically within a world that has been explored and thought out in incredible detail. The world is one where element-based powers are the norm, almost acting as races, with all the unfortunately inevitable tension that arises from their misunderstandings of one another. It is also a world blighted by the Worldstorm, an untiring storm that constantly travels across the globe, leaving destruction in its wake. The way these characters interact with the world is what kept me reading until the confusing and unsatisfying ending. First, there is Elder Ayn who has lived the majority of his life secluded in Stonehaven, an academic sanctuary for those with Air-Inclined powers; whilst there he realises that he is inherently dissatisfied with what he has achieved in life, prompting him to leave on a journey to destroy the Worldstorm. He initially appears to be solemn and dignified, but it soon becomes clear that he is an incredibly flawed man, often unable to see that what he sees as reasonable and justified is actually thoughtlessly cruel. Second is Khollo, a young man with the ability to remember everything from the age of 13 onwards with perfect clarity and accuracy. He's quite understated and quiet, but by the end he was my favourite by far, simply because of his good heart and intentions. Third, there is Gregory, a boy who finds that he has the Earth-based power of regeneration and heightened durability, despite having been born to a pure-bred family of Fire-Inclined. The sense of bitterness that he feels for being sent away after his family find out about his abilities is entirely understandable, and he is otherwise an admirable character who is easily the one who suffers the most by the end. Finally, there is Yashu. She's probably the only character that I felt was horribly misused. Her characterisation is brilliant, that of a no-nonsense and practical girl who is nonetheless incredibly sheltered. I just think that her character had so much potential that wasn't used. In order to explain, I will need to spoil the ending somewhat. You're free to skip if you want.

So, at the start it looks like Yashu exhibits no powers, a state of being that the majority of society look down on. It turns out though, that she just happens to have a different inclination to that of the other people on the archipelago that she lives on: while other people have Water-based powers, she can tell when people are lying, a power that is associated with Air. As a power, there are so many things that you can do with that. Unfortunately, it's pretty much ignored, used only as a means to make her an opposite of Gregory. And then she gets pretty much reduced to a baby-maker. I appreciate that one of the wonderful things about being a woman is the ability to create life, I get that. But at the same time it frustrates me that you can boil down Yashu's role to one of "she got pregnant", when she could have had so many other interesting adventures. It's kind of a pet peeve.

Overall, this is a novel that has a lot of good things that helped me finish reading it. Unfortunately, it has just as many bad things, meaning that I can only look at it and think how it could have been so much better. Ultimately, it started off well, but the author just failed to bring the characters' individual stories together in a satisfactory way. 3/5

Next review: Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Signing off,

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