Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Samiha's Song

Last year I read an interesting and light YA romp called Tymon’s Flight by New Zealand based author Mary Victoria. One of the most remarkable and interesting things about Tymon’s Flight was that the world the author had chosen to set it in was a giant tree.

Samiha’s Song is the sequel (I believe it’s a trilogy, although it is called Chronicles of the Tree, so it could very well go on endlessly). The Samiha in the title is one of the main characters, the other was Tymon, and interestingly he’s the main protagonist in this one, too, although Samiha is the second most important character in the book.

A lot of what went right in Tymon’s Flight unfortunately goes badly wrong in Samiha’s Song.

The recently come of age Tymon (he’s 15, but regularly acts a good deal older or younger, depending on what the narrative seems to require at the time) has to leave his beloved Samiha and travel to a dangerous part of the Tree. A place called Cherk Harbour. There Tymon will continue his studies in the mysterious magic known as Grafting with the legendary Oracle. Meanwhile Samiha will stay behind and try to spread the word about the truth that is hidden from most of the populace by the Church.

Because Mary Victoria has created such a unique setting I had hoped that we’d get to see other parts of the Tree and see how they differed from Argos City (the setting for Tymon’s Flight). Readers did get to see Cherk Harbour, but it really came across as a dirtier, rougher Argos City. Tymon met the Oracle and most of that part of the story was lifted directly from Star Wars, just substitute the word Force for Sap and Yoda for Oracle and you’re right there. The Oracle for most of the story was using the body of a young girl, so I’ll refer to it as she (the Oracle, despite being a benevolent type seems to use others bodies for it’s own ends and to keep itself alive and doesn’t see anything wrong with that…interesting). Although the Oracle’s vessel was described I kept seeing her as small and green with pointed ears. Tymon even spends a good deal of his time with her ferrying her about on his back while she bleats treelike philosophy in his ear. After the Oracle’s host passes away Tymon joins up with another rebel called Pallas (who judging by his accent of broken English must be from a far off part of the Tree) and goes to rescue Samiha, who has been imprisoned in Argos City and is scheduled for execution.

There’s an awful lot wrong with Samiha’s Song. The above only scratches the surface. The real problem is that there simply isn’t enough there to make more than one book. At over 500 pages Samiha’s Song suffers dreadfully from padding. A decent editor could have cut about 200 pages out, and possibly made it into a tighter and thoroughly more readable book. It seems to have been afflicted with a severe case of ‘middle book syndrome’, and that means there’s a lot of aimless wandering around (as an aside: somewhere along the line authors seem to have been given the idea that readers really enjoy seeing vast sections of the plot devoted to pointless journeying. We don’t, so stop it!) and in Samiha’s Song the extra pages aren’t devoted to flowery descriptions, but endless descriptions of the Tree’s religion. The book is almost entirely devoid of anything approaching humour, it has a couple of tries, but falls very flat. It relies heavily on it’s two leads and the problem there is that they simply aren’t very interesting. In my review of Tymon’s Flight I felt Tymon was a doormat and very passive for a male lead, nothing has changed, the plot moves him about, not the other way around. Once you work out that Samiha has a huge martyr complex there’s not a lot else to her. There’s an awful lot of tell, but not much show in Samiha’s Song, I suspect this is largely because there’s also a lack of tension in the action scenes and nothing much to admire in the description ones, so let’s just fill it up with some more exposition, or talk about the Tree’s religion some more.

I got this really strong feeling of déjà vu part way through, and I finally worked out that Samiha’s Song, and to a lesser extent Tymon’s Flight, read like book versions of some of the SFF themed stuff I used to watch on the ABC as a kid and young teen. It’s no surprise to find out that the author used to work in film and TV, she seems to have drawn a good deal of her inspiration from this sort of stuff.

There’s apparently at least one more book due to come out soon: Oracle’s Fire, but Samiha’s Song has killed any enthusiasm I had for this series. I’ve got better things to read, so I think I’ll give it a miss.

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