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Nessa's Thoughts

Just a British girl who reads a bit too much.

Currently reading

The Dead Zone
Stephen King
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly
Jean-Dominique Bauby
Clarissa, or, the History of a Young Lady
Samuel Richardson, Angus Ross
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison
Piper Kerman
The Cuckoo's Calling
Robert Galbraith
The Raie'Chaelia - Melissa Douthit Note: This is a review of what I could get through of the book, not the author. Please don't take umbrage with me because I gave it a negative rating. I am in no way jumping on the bandwagon, as late as I may be, and I don't particularly care for author-reader relations drama any more, nor the outpouring of wank that went on last year. I'm bloody exhausted by it, and I'm sick of my friends and I being demonised for having an opinion. Capische? On with the show, then.The Raie'Chaelia is a fantasy novel that tries so hard but unfortunately gets little right. The fantasy land detailed doesn't make sense, nor does its history. I like to think of world-building as a finely woven tapestry, with solid threading and fine craftsmanship. If you can tear the whole thing apart by tugging at a few flyaway threads, then it's not a very well-crafted setting. One of these threads happens to be the history of this world.I don't have an extensive background in Archaeology, but I do have a qualification in it, and all my old notes from sixth form at hand. To begin with, we are introduced to the concept of there being an Ice Age so terrible, with such harsh conditions that mankind was forced to live underground. This was a mere two generations ago, as Chalice's 'grandfather' remembers living underground when he was a child. The weather apparently became temperate with the dawning of the new millennium, and mankind built settlements above ground.No. Just no. Our primordial ancestors who lived during the last Ice Age, ranging from the Mesolithic to the Palaeolithic era – a good 100,000-10,000 years ago – had to live above ground in very small tribes, from what archaeological researchers and anthropologists have been able to find of them.“Yes,” you cry, “but it's a fantasy world. Mankind's ancestors in this story were skilled magic-users, so perhaps they had technology enough to allow them to go underground.”That is a point, but... how in the name of Lucius Malfoy did this all happen? Did mankind realise it was getting nippier each winter, and so they got out their shovels and drill-bits and shoved all their technology underground? Why is there electricity in this world? Why are there entire castles and farmhouses constructed with marble? Why are there printing presses efficient enough for collectible editions of books? Moving house is a big enough extravagance, but an entire society coming up with this technology after being forced underground? What? As the old saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day. Historians, from what I recall of my Archaeology classes, generally agree it was built over quite a few decades, maybe even a century or so. Even then, the Romans didn't have electricity, the printing press, or... no. Just no.The author's intent is made clear in the prologue to the book, in which it is stated that The Raie'Chaelia is supposed to be 'a fantasy story like no other I had read before.' The trouble is, The Raie'Chaelia is exactly like every other fantasy story out there. It wades through a swamp of tropes, getting all the most trite fantasy clichés stuck on it. (I know, I was never very good with metaphors.)First of all, the novel begins with a wise and just King being usurped by some evil guy with a moustache. And because the weather likes to pay particular attention to current events, a storm rolls in during this usurpation, and yes, the Evil Moustache Guy kills the king and becomes the new monarch. He also goes on to be a complete tyrant. A little bit after this, baby Chalice is dropped off on a doorstep, and we then flash forward to her travelling with her horse as a pretty young adult. She's also the only blonde in her typically dark-haired village. There are magic users in this society. Chalice discovers that she is the Chosen One, in fact, the lost princess of this pure, royal bloodline who have the divine right to come back into power... by reading a book which has her name written in a foreign language. Oh, let's not forget, she also has a unique birthmark!My friend Kaia read this last year, and whilst reading, made note of all the Star Wars tropes that are also stuck in this novel. There's a sagely instructor called Ben. There's an ethereal 'Force' that binds all the world together. There are small, teddy bear-like creatures living in forests. I actually wanted to continue reading because I wanted to make positively certain that there wasn't going to be some ridiculous 'I... am your father.' confrontation at the end, but I couldn't push myself that far.There's a ridiculous scene where Chalice meets her childhood friend Jeremiah in the town of Branbury. She snoops around a farmhouse, and when he finds her, she kicks him across the room and scolds him for 'sneaking up on a Cantonese'. Jeremiah wonders how she can be from Canton with such fair hair, and Chalice gives us this detailed backstory:“You don’t look Cantonese,” he said. It was true, the Cantonese were usually dark in hair and complexion and she was exceedingly fair.“Yeah, I hear that all the time but I was born and raised there. It’s the truth. I grew up with my Grandfather, Sebastian, and my Grandmother, Naelli. I don’t remember my mother and know virtually nothing of the rest of my family.” (Page 22)Wouldn't a simple utterance of “I'm adopted.” have sufficed here? As always, less is more, especially when it comes to writing.Also, I have no idea how Jeremiah has a fridge, electric lighting, a hot and cold plumbing system, and all the other mod cons... Yet Chalice reacts with bewilderment the first time he flicks a electrical switch. Is there some kind of big divide between the Haves and Have Nots? Is it like late Victorian England, in which richer folks could afford a motor car and electricity, and everyone else had to get by with matches and horse-drawn coaches? None of this is ever explained, and there's no scale on the map provided on the first page, so Naeo'Gaea could be a tiny cluster of countries/provinces, or an enormous continent. Who knows.The dialogue in this is often really, really banal. This novel seriously suffers from a heck of a lot of info-dumping, in which the world is explained to us in staggering detail via description and character interactions. Again, Kaia said it best: Person A will ask a question, and Person B will give them an incredibly-detailed answer. Person A picks up on something Person B says in their deluge of information, and proceeds to start the cycle anew. It's dreadful. Another element of fantasy that can either go right or horribly, horribly wrong, is having people speaking different languages. Unfortunately, Melissa Douthit is no J.R.R. Tolkien. Now, Tolkien had extensively studied Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, and other Norse, Celtic, Uralic and Germanic languages before he wrote Lord of the Rings, so that two of the many Elven languages, Sindarin and Quen'ya, would sound just right. The same goes for all the other languages he constructed for use in that universe. The author of this book, on the other hand, seems to have deconstructed either French or Spanish words, and haphazardly glued the letters back together so that the words look vaguely fantastical. The main foreign language that Chalice speaks is called 'Angaulic'. While some phrases in Angaulic don't have a French or Spanish equivalent, little things like this do:'Iel tasse d'avie.' “The cup of life.”Oh, you mean like la tasse de la vie, French for the exact same thing? Also, please don't try to explain to me that this is set in our world, but thousands of years from the present. A language would have changed or developed into a much more different version of itself after thousands of years. Hell, the French/Norman King William the Conqueror and his buddies came to England in 1066, and conquered the Anglo-Saxons, who, need I remind you, spoke like this:Hwæt! wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagumþēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnonhū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedonOft Scyld Scēfing sceaþena þrēatummonegum mægþum meodo-setla oftēahegsian eorl syððan ǣrest weorþana...And wound up speaking the English that we do today because King William I and his aristocratic pals all spoke French, which went on to become the standard language of the upper class and educated and rubbed off on the English language in general. Then we got some Nordic words from the Vikings. The Catholic Church also kept Latin around by keeping its liturgy in the ancient language, and there's also a tradition of keeping Ancient Greek alive in some schools. Basically, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rexKqvgPVuAEt voilà, we have English today, a melting pot of various languages, with the Oxford Dictionary trying its best to keep up with our slang every single year.My point is, if English has changed so much over the past 947 years that looking at that passage of Beowulf remains unintelligible to the modern English-speaker (unless they have a degree or interest in the study of ancient European languages), why would French or Spanish have morphed into 'Angaulic'? Or am I just being a huge languages nerd?This might possibly have been a good idea with a few tweaks. Just because something is clichéd doesn't mean it's bad, after all. With multiple rewrites and very harsh editing, this could have been an okay fantasy novel. Not great, merely okay. As it stands, The Raie'Chaelia is generic, poorly-written, and the world Douthit has constructed makes absolutely no sense. 1/5.(This review is also available on my blog: http://book-wyrm.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/the-raiechaelia-by-melissa-douthit.html)Addendum - the drama from last year.You can read my thoughts on this whole débacle here.