The Charmed Sphere by Catherine Asaro
This is not going to be pretty, but then, neither was the reading experience.
I’m filled with dread right within the second paragraph, when Catherine Asaro for some reason feels the need to inform me that apple yellow is Chime’s favorite color. This dread is not soothed as the scene carries on, full of Chime’s rather juvenile observations. She sounds more like she’s five rather than almost eighteen, and I’m just not happy.
Neither am I pleased with her male opposite, a prince and heir to the throne of the realm, who is named (brace yourself for this one, folks) Muller Startower Heptacorn Dawnfield. Pair that alongside names like Della No-Cozen and Anvil the Forged, and Catherine Asaro is making me miss Janine Cross. But I digress. Here’s a snippet of Muller’s POV, so you might perhaps see what it was about him that set my teeth on edge so:
And his face. What a disaster. His eyes were too large, his lashes too long, his features too beautiful. Who took seriously a man with pretty eyelashes? He was never going to strike fear into his enemies looking like this. Not that he had any wish to fight a war, but he was far more proficient with a sword than anyone believed.
That’s our hero Muller thinking about himself. Aside from the fact that this stems from part of a paragraph talking about Muller’s love of clothing (which he goes on about often, complete with lots of complaining about getting said clothes dirty), I really hate the fact that this supposed proficient swordsman has no clue that striking fear into your enemies is all about your attitude. I thought this was something that anyone learning the sword was taught.
So the characters are juvenile and poorly developed, so how about the writing and world building? Unfortunately, it’s all horribly clunky and heavy-handed. The world building especially is handled in sudden info dumps which seem less like competence and more like Ms. Asaro going “Look at how clever I am!” Seriously, she has Chime’s brother (who’s named Drummer, by the way) knock over a chair in the kitchen for the sole purpose of describing the chair, where it came from, how it was paid for, and what the land’s currency looks like, in quite some detail. Don’t believe me? Here’s a piece of it (it actually goes on for two paragraphs, but I’ll only make you read one):
Her uncle would have given them his work for free, but Chime’s father refused to let him, paying him with twelve-sided copper coins. For the best pieces he even paid a round copper coin worth twelve of the twelve-siders. Chime loved the shiny coins, which were made at Castle Suncroft. The perfect shapes gave her a sense of completion.
This I suppose is, aside from a poor attempt at world building, also Asaro’s way of shoving it down the readers throats that her mages work with a “complicated” system of shapes. Also colors, an element which makes me wonder if poor Anne Bishop is tearing her hair out in frustration. But none of it is really interesting, and it’s told to the reader in such a ham-handed way that I really didn’t care at all.
As for the plot… I couldn’t force myself to read that far. But I couldn’t see anything new and different forming. Anvil the Forged and the Evil King of Evil Land want to take over the country, Chime is the strongest mage of her kind in generation, there’s love and stuff to be conquered against all odds, and so on. Perhaps Ms. Asaro’s sci fi work is good (with a Nebula award, it should be) but her fantasy? Not so much.
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