by J Robert King, fantasy (2011)
Pocket, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-4165-8960-0
Edge Of Destiny is set in the world of the MMORPG Guild Wars 2, and it can stand alone. However, unlike most fantasy franchise novels, this one is surprisingly light on exposition, probably too light as I doubt folks unfamiliar with the world of Tyria will get the full picture of what is happening here. The relationship between Caithe and Faolain, for example, may leave many scratching their heads, especially given that there is hardly any explanation about the Nightmare Court.
Anyway, this story is about the rise and fall of Destiny's Edge, a bunch of ragtag adventurers who come together to defeat several minions of the Elder Dragons before they aimed too high and one of them utterly failed the others in a tragic manner. If you are familiar with the game, you already know the ending, but let's pretend that we are all waiting in bated breath for the dramatic denouement.
I came into this book late, as it took me only in the middle of 2013 to discover Guild Wars 2. Curious about the lore of the setting, I picked this book up despite having come across scathing reviews of this book by fans of the game and the setting. Having read this book, I can see where they are coming from. This is easily the weakest book in the three published entries of the series. I feel, however, that the problem lies more in the pacing than the quality of the writing.
Okay, the writing isn't good. The author aims for humor at the oddest moments, and his efforts are uneven - the funny lines often come off as awkward and forced as often as they work. It's 50/50, like the work of a stand-up comedian who is only starting to find his rhythm, but the author has written many sandbox novels before for various fantasy franchises, so I don't know his excuse is. Then again, if I can be blunt, novels in fantasy franchise are not exactly well known for their quality narrative, so this book is par for the course. Unfortunately.
But the bigger problem here is that this story should not be funny. The dramatic denouement means me to relate to the characters and feel for them in order to work, but it's hard to take these characters seriously when the story has a Sunday morning cartoon feel to it. Worse, there are way too many things to cover in a story with so many pages, and while the pacing is fine at the start, by the late third of the story the author is rushing things up like he has a checklist to complete before he misses a train or something. The dramatic denouement comes out abruptly and is over in a matter of pages, leaving me to go, "Well, isn't that a spectacularly limp example of an anticlimax?"
Worst of all, the motivations of that character that trigger the team's downfall, Logan Thackeray, are so banal. He falls in love with Queen Jennah at first sight, which is fine if this "love" isn't so superficial. They barely even talk, other than through the occasional missive, and who knows, maybe that Jennah woman has a PA to write those letters to Logan. It's unfortunate that Logan comes off as a clueless asshole led by his little pee-pee, but it's even more unfortunate that Jennah comes off here as a manipulative woman who is just using him and, so Logan's ultimate betrayal of his buddies make him a despicable piece of ettin dung. Now, if this is the author's intention, to make Logan the biggest piece of turd in fantasy land since Kelemvor Lyonsbane, I'm all for it, but it's clear from playing the game that Logan and Jennah are supposed to be precious and amazing together, so yeah, the author screws up big time here.
The other members of Destiny's Edge fare only a little better, in that at least they are not hateful cardboard cut-outs like Logan here. Rytlock is all "charge first, talk later", Zojja is one-dimensionally bitchy, Caithe shows up only when the author remembers that she exists, and Eir is basically "that tall big chick with the wolf". The most memorable character is Snaff, which only makes him too good for the company of these cardboard cut-outs and what happens during the denouement even more painful to read.
Perhaps if this book has been split into three, the author would have had the opportunity to develop the story better. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. As it is, Edge Of Destiny can be an emotional read, but these emotions are uniformly negative in nature, and they arise despite the author's best intentions.
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