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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor by Sean Wright

I have had this book for quite some time now, having received it as a Christmas present one year from my parents. I remember this part reasonably clearly, since they were rather pleased at having found a signed copy for me. Now, I do remember reading this closer to the time that I got it, but over the years my impression of what actually happened in the plot boiled down to "weirdness", which is unusual considering some of my other interests. So, spurred on by adult curiosity, I returned to The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor to see how it holds up.

The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor follows Lia-Va, an eighteen year old queen who has newly come into power after slaying her own father in combat. The reader starts the novel as she secretly abdicates from the throne that she never truly wanted, disappearing into the night in order to fuel her true passion: her addiction to roots and the parchment that they may help her translate. As her journey looks to be treacherous, she employs a mysterious, mute stranger as her bodyguard, but she soon finds that he has a bigger stake in her journey than she ever imagined he would.
Oh boy, where to begin with this mess. I suppose I should spend some time on perhaps the single good thing about The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor: the concept of roots. Roots are four-inch shards regurgitated by living creatures at the moment of their deaths, each containing the memories of the dead people that they came from. If a person were to stab themselves with these roots, they would experience the memories contained within as vivid hallucinations. As a fantasy drug, it's really quite creative and well explored. Additionally, there is a nice balance between the fantastical hallucinations themselves and the withdrawal symptoms. It's just a pity that the rest of the novel is so atrocious in comparison.
Now, onto the many, many really bad parts of the novel. First, there's the world-building. I imagine that there was a fair bit of detail that went into the planning stages of The Twisted Root of Jaarfindor, but at 150 pages, there isn't room for any of it to be explored. What could have been a fascinating world is made utterly frustrating because the reader is constantly bombarded by the kind of stupidly complex and ugly-sounding fantasy names that most good fantasy books mock relentlessly, accompanied by maybe a sentence or two at most to explain them. For example, the various different races that turn up in the course of the novel became indistinguishable to me, considering that the only descriptions that came up were either evil albino mutants or insect people. There were other race names mentioned, but no other descriptions. There were political undertones that were pretty much mentioned to introduce conflict, but never elaborated on in enough detail for the animosity to feel genuine. There was both fantasy and a kind of post-apocalyptic space technology that could have meshed in new and interesting ways, if the author had only spent more time talking about it beyond "oooh, look, spaceships!" Really, it feels like listening to a little kid tell a story: they cram in whatever they think sounds cool, without much thought to whether it's all well-explored or coherent.
Second are the characters. They probably could have worked with a bit of retooling, but as they were, it was just grasping at straws. Lia-Va was more or less tolerable as a protagonist, as she decides pretty early on that she's going to do her own thing, and screw anyone who tries to make life difficult for her. She's a bitch with some serious emotional issues involving her parents and her native culture, which could be great. As it was, it tends to lead to some kind of childish behaviour as she acts up whenever someone doesn't give her what she wants. She's not as bad as Islan though, who is frustrating in multiple ways. First of all, he's just one of those characters who comes across as unintentionally smug and self-satisfied, because he's just so much more spiritually and morally elevated than you, and I'm only doing these things for the greater good. The fact that he is technically right only makes the second point more frustrating. He knows that the parchment that Lia-Va has is evil, but he decides to be mysterious about why he wants her to break her root addiction, despite her repeated questioning. He only mentions that he thinks that her magic parchment is evil right when they're near the thing that she needs to translate said parchment, a.k.a. the WORST possible moment for breaking that news. Suffice to say, he doesn't have a happy ending and quite honestly the stupid sod had it coming.
Third is the writing itself. It is worryingly incompetent. When you have a 150 page book, you really can't afford to recycle what few descriptions you have, because boy do they stick out like a sore thumb. And when I say recycle, I mean word for word. Not for anything symbolically important either, which is the most puzzling thing of all. The things that come immediately to mind are descriptions of the sky, a flag and a particularly ugly mobster, none of which are actually consequential to the plot in any way, shape or form. If you're echoing a description, usually it's to make some kind of thematic or symbolic resonance within the work as a whole, but this is just laziness pure and simple. Additionally, I have to worry for this publishing house's level of editing when a clanger like "the diverse political shift in political power" manages to get through whole and intact; when that happens, you might want to cut your losses.

Avoid like the plague. The one good aspect of this is the concept of the roots, but that may well be the novelty factor considering that most fantasy novels don't deal with drugs a huge amount. The rest of the novel is an utter mess. There isn't anywhere near enough room for the author to properly explore the world that he's created, so the experience is less coherence and more sheltering from the word-vomit of fantasy terms flung the reader's way. The characters are a bit too simplistic and one in particular is mysterious for absolutely no reason and jeopardises the entire journey in the process. And finally, when the author is too lazy to think up more than one description for the sky, then you know that you're onto a loser. Not worth the paper it's printed on quite honestly. 1/5

Next review: Beauty by Robin McKinley

Signing off,

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