Skylark starts out with a familiar dystopian setup: heroine Lark is disillusioned of her society's means of serving the common good and sets out on a...moreSkylark starts out with a familiar dystopian setup: heroine Lark is disillusioned of her society's means of serving the common good and sets out on a journey to escape and take down her government. As the heroine leaves her home, the story itself leaves a lot of the dystopian elements behind and becomes more a quiet, survival story with elements of fantasy world-building sprinkled throughout.
A bulk of Skylark takes place in the wild, a stark contrast from the magic and machine-powered environment Lark grew up in. There, she encounters for the first time much that we would take for granted: fruit and vegetables growing from the ground, animals she had previously believed extinct, and even the sky itself is a new experience. Her reactions to each discovery range from wonder to uncomprehending terror. These moments are some of the book's strongest in how they portray Lark's disorientation in a realistic, human way.
The journey through the forest also leaves clues to a world beyond the scope of this first book in the series. Lark finds relics from civilizations just before her time, and they illustrate the different forms that magic can take in this world. The variations within the magic system are cool, and though the stories behind the ruins are never fully realized, they are enough to intrigue and entice readers to learn more in future installments.
Lark's solitude eventually ends as she gains a few companions in the buildup to the third act. From thereon out, the plot moves quickly towards the climax with raised stakes and one or two twists thrown in. The conclusion is satisfying for now, and revelations here also set the stage nicely for the next book.
Skylark won't be for everyone, especially those who require a lot of dialogue or came looking for dystopia-heavy story. It's a great girl-on-the-lam story, though, and highly recommended for young adult fantasy veterans looking for something different.(less)
The moments of pulpy, over-the-top action are terribly fun when they happen, but they're often buried in long, expositional tangents. In terms of idea...moreThe moments of pulpy, over-the-top action are terribly fun when they happen, but they're often buried in long, expositional tangents. In terms of ideas, I can see how the Metaverse/Second Life broke ground in 1992, and the connections drawn between the Tower of Babel and programming fascinate; the book spends too much time on the latter, however, and so the pacing takes a hit. Overall, I'm not in love, but I now understand the frequent references to it.(less)
Vance uses a lot of fantasy tropes with self-awareness and a matter-of-fact narration style that regards ridiculous scenarios so casually that it only...moreVance uses a lot of fantasy tropes with self-awareness and a matter-of-fact narration style that regards ridiculous scenarios so casually that it only further emphasizes how silly traditional fantasy tends to be. In one of my favorite side anecdotes, a duke and his friends attend a solstice festival pageant: "...they agreed that the maidens who represented the Seven Graces were remarkably charming, but could form no consensus as to which was supreme. They discussed the matter well into the evening over wine, and at last, to resolve the matter in a practical way, kidnapped all seven of the maidens and took them across the water to Malvang." I'd read a few Vance short stories before this book, and all read in a similarly snarky voice. There are warring kingdoms, magicians, fairies, and a smattering of monsters, and most of them have enormous egos: as a result, the political and magical disputes that would normally read as epic fantasy feels more like a sitcom of petty grievances.
Characters tend to fall cleanly on the good and bad side, and the good protagonists are blandly angelic with moments of violent justice. There isn't a single protagonist, as Suldrun's Garden consists of five separate narrative threads that come together nicely in the end. Though the heroes suffer from blandness, their journeys take the reader through a large scope of the world; they're also abused almost everywhere they go, setting up several revenge quests that end up being the more engaging parts of the story.
I really could have done without the fantasy trope requiring all ladies enduring sexual harassment/abuse. Every female character is threatened with rape, especially a girl who is frequently described as not yet a woman. There's a somewhat worrisome amount of adults and trolls lusting after and forcing themselves upon prepubescent girls.(less)