The Cycle of Arawn, by Edward W. Robertson
The Cycle of Arawn is a three book story arch written by Edward W. Robertson. I have no memory on where I got the idea of reading this series, but now, after researching a bit, I realize is one of those self published books that caught on sooner or later. Robertson is a 30 something guy who wrote a surprising number of books besides Arawn, but he is still young and that may explain the quality of the writing. I mean, he has a blog on Blogspot, for crying out loud! Who does that? (clarification: at the time I had this blog on Blogspot)
The story is about this young orphan who lives his life by the day, stealing, mugging, surviving. One day, though, he sees a wondrous thing: a man resurrecting a dog from death. He then decides, just like that, to find out what that is about and so he learns about the nether, the opposite of ether, which is the normal stuff of wizardry. The writing is not bad, but not good either. The characters are very thinly fleshed out and they change their behaviour as dictated by the plot, rather than be their own people. One thing that immediately jarred me is that the language of the writing is quite modern, while it presents a medieval magical world. The disconnect grows when all the people in the land, including men, women, different nations, different species, seem to have the same sense of humour. But what really annoyed me about The Cycle of Arawn is the inconsistency of the characters and even the story. In a three book series about nether users, ether is merely mentioned in a few places, although it was supposed to be most of the magic used in the land, for example.
Let's start and stop with the main character: Dante. He starts off as a poor street thug, but he can read, learn new languages, go to places to get books and find references on how to translate an ancient tome, all while being chased around by the owners of the book. He is 16 at the time. I would find that difficult to believe even if he were a modern 16 year old, but one living on the streets in medieval times? All the learning that is done after this point, though, is completely different: pompous old people give him hints and let him work it out in the most convoluted unprofessional educational system that ever existed. At every point, when people with vast difference in hierarchical position interact, they joke and make fun of each other like drinking buddies. This ignoring of the way structured societies work makes Dante become the leader of the nethermancer city, the first human member of a clan of non-human tribe, the starter of a war, the ender of the war, the ender of another war, all by the time he reaches 26 and while going around the world doing dangerous stuff. Which is all nice and neat, but completely absurd. At the end, it seems like the reading of the book that started it all wasn't even necessary or even the best way to learn to become a wizard. One begs the question, what exactly did the order of the nethermancers with the magic before encountering an uneducated kid from another country?
One might think that, being a young adult thing, this book has a lot of action, adventure, romance. It is not true. Dante is essentially a geek, a book buff that got superpowers. The most interesting portions of the cycle is when he reads something new or finds new ways of using the magic. He doesn't have any romantic relationship of note from start to finish and the only girl he kind of likes becomes the girlfriend of another and then he accidentally kills her and then he just moves on. The action sequences are poor, uncoordinated, uninspiring and worst of all: not using things the character has learned how to do in previous sections of the story. One thing that permeates the cycle: nobody gives a damn about anything, really. They proclaim some things, then they just brush them away like nothing happened and move on to make the plot work.
Bottom line: it was a classical "boy find special powers" kind of myth, but went all over the place. It was easy to read, even if some descriptions of non essential stuff took pages! (in my mind I renamed it to The Cycle of Yawn), and the series had a finality, sort of, with the third book, so I don't have to read 14 books to get to the end of the story (*cough*Wheel of Time*cough*). I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, really, even if it wasn't completely bad. It was bad, though.
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