Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Books of the Immortals: Air
Books of the Immortals - Air
Ebook, Barbara G.Tarn
March 31, 2011
$4.99 USD, Smashwords
I generally don't care for romantic fiction, but this was better than I'd expected. Stylistically, Ms. Tarn has a gentle but sweetly compelling voice. Her prose is clean and terse, with an air of bright, childlike optimism that rises up from the pages, creating scenes light, happy and open like a Maxfield Parrish painting.
But there are names. Lots and lots of names, without details to accompany them. I would have liked much more detailed descriptions of the characters and places, as they were sometimes difficult to visualize, identify with, and distinguish in the story.
Occasionally. Ms. Tarn will also throw in some Italian terms that aren't explained until near the end of the book, if at all. On one page, the terms Parigha Flugo, duonfrato, plenfratino, and destinito are shot out in quick succession, leaving the reader completely perplexed - and not in a positive way - until some 75 pages later.
Ms. Tarn needs to really engage all the reader's senses with more leisurely, detailed descriptions - readers want to be immersed in the sights, sounds, scents, textures and tastes. On page 45, her description of Princess Indira is the first satisfactory example of this. Each of her characters deserves such treatment.
Tarn's charming voice is a refreshing change in the modern world of bleak cynicism, cruelty and shock value in the interest of commerce. She's sort of the antithesis of the modern "neogothic dark" resurgence. I applaud her ability to maintain her cheer, but while she's fine with sparkle and charm, it's the dark side where her writing falls a bit short.
Because of Ms. Tarn's sweetness, it feels like her evil characters well... weren't particularly. For the first 200 pages, the worst of their sins seems to be petulance and indiscriminate fornication, with a taste for domination. If a bad case of the hornies makes someone a villain, then surely I'm damned.
In her magical world, there's no real sense of fear, and what conflicts exist are rushed through in the span of a single paragraph or less. In truth, her work would be far more effective if she built a little more tension and dread. I would have preferred if she'd built up the suspense, milked the moment a bit. For example, the killing of a high priest of darkness takes place in the span of under a paragraph, and the appearance of a goddess is described in a single sentence. In fact, gods and goddesses pop up constantly, like guests at a very crowded party.
While Ms. Tarn is fine at what she produces, it feels as if she's still stretching her wings before really taking off. One senses she's got the potential for first-rate fantasy within her, but still has some maturation to go. Learning how to tap into the vein of really deep, heartbreaking pathos and taking the time to pause and really paint a complete picture of her characters each time she introduces them would add to her work greatly, I think. Description, danger, pathos and tension. If Ms. Tarn can throw these liberally into the mix, she's on the path to writing some excellent fantasy.
The meeting between Kumar, the antihero, and the king was a nice bit of humor, and an original twist on the timeless fairy tale theme. In fact, Kumar is by far the most interesting of the characters, a sort of eternally petulant four-year-old boy, but with the ability to deliver a serious ass-kicking. The character can be depended upon to always do the unexpected, invariably acting amusingly rude, loutish, selfish and insensitive. If Tarn based her book primarily around this character, it would make for much, much wider appeal. The two lesbian harpies with the hearts of gold are also quite unique in fantasy literature, I think.
Having a heroine sit on a cloud was not particularly convincing however, destroying the plausibility of an otherwise consistent high fantasy setting - even in a magical world, water vapor is still water vapor.
In short, Ms. Tarn's work is charming, but not yet terribly compelling. She definitely has the talent to create much more deeply satisfying work, but she needs to reach deep within and evoke some of the less pleasant aspects of life to push her work toward its full potential. A character with the complexity of Kumar would be a great place to start.