Jun 17, 11
Read from June 14 to 15, 2011
I love Sarah Rees Brennan's writing almost to a fault. I might be an anomaly among her fans because I never read any of her Harry Potter or other fan fiction - I just know her through her blog, which is awesome. Her short stories are absolutely fantastic, and the first book of the trilogy, The Demon's Lexicon, was nothing short of genius.
But then... The second book of the trilogy, The Demon's Covenant, was so-so and I still held out hope for a great finish since many awesome trilogies suffer from sagging middles.
But The Demon's Surrender simply does not deliver.
This is mainly due to one single giant mistake:
THE POV IS ABSOLUTELY THE WRONG ONE FOR THE STORY REES BRENNAN IS TRYING TO TELL.
When your POV character is reduced to hiding behind doors all the time evesdropping on other people's conversations and spying on other people's actions instead of doing her own stuff and focusing on her own story? Classic indicator of wrong POV choice.
This is why I was suspicious of the wisdom of a book written from Sin's perspective... and my suspicions turned out to be disappointingly right. These books are the story of the Ryves brothers primarily, and Mae and Jamie secondarily. Where did SIN come from?! She's a likeable character, sure, even an interesting character, but these books aren't about her. She's too far removed from the "core four", her life too separate from theirs, to be an effective POV choice in telling what is essentially THEIR story. There was simply no reason to pick her as our anchor point.
The POV character choice becomes the root cause of major problems with the book, such as -
* The plot is unforgiveably haphazard, to the extent that I have no idea what the "main" plot thread was supposed to be. Is it Sin's struggle to become the Goblin Market leader? Is it the hunt for the black pearl? Is it the Alan-Sin romance, on which the most page-time is spent?? Note how NONE of these main three plot threads have anything to do with Nick or Jamie at all, Mae's involvement is completely off-screen, and Alan's is purely romantic - i.e. completely unrelated to PLOT.
* There weren't any meaningful resolutions to the problems raised in the first two books. Nick finally expressing feelings for his brother falls flat and lacks emotional resonance, because it's all just being overheard by an unconnected party who is a stranger to Nick and doesn't recognise its significance. The whole Nick-Mae romance is shown through the cunning use of repeated evesdropping (UGH), so we miss out on emotional resonance (again, since Sin is a stranger to both people), completeness (since we can't have a random stranger following this new couple around too muhc), and even coherence (Nick apologising to Mae makes little sense when we don't know WHY or HOW he understood he was wrong).
But even apart from POV issues there was a lot of plain old clumsy writing.
* the issue of Goblin Market leadership was utterly undeveloped on the page. We see a lot of grandstanding about how each of the girls want the position, but we only hear second-hand off-screen mentions of exciting test tasks the girls were asked to do, and neither girl is ever seen first-hand doing anything concrete on the page to win the leadership. As a result, the resolution comes out of nowhere - we never see HOW or WHY the girls agreed to the solution, and it seems to have no connection to anything that happened in the book. What was the point??
* the plot thread involving the black pearl devolves into less than nothing. We see neither of the girls do anything at all to actually seek it out (the ONE questing expedition Sin goes on is sidetracked by a romance interlude with Alan), and later it simply goes missing. Turns out in the end that one of the good guys had it all along... but nobody uses it even though it could have saved lives, possibly even saved Alan from the demon possessing him! Why introduce such a (supposedly) powerful artefact in your book if you plan to do exactly nothing with it?
* the issue of Goblin Market inclusiveness suffers from the opposite problem: a great resolution with NO setup. We were never told that the Goblin Market was too cliqueish and xenophobic before! We didn't know the Market had a problem with inclusiveness and political correctness. (Weren't we told the problem was that it was too mercenary and capitalistic?) But suddenly Mae is solving problems nobody even knew they had, and it was quite confusing.
I did like some things: notably the handling/resolution of the secondary demons, the fate of the magicians, and Jamie's story (which came off surprisingly well considering he was hardly ever on the page... for once, seeing an old character from a complete stranger's POV actually worked in the book's favor because Jamie undergoes quite a profound transformation in this book).
But all in all this was quite a disappointing read. I still heartily recommend the first book in this trilogy. It works well as a standalone and it is a truly well-written, tightly plotted, polished piece of work. It is on the strength and promise in The Demon's Lexicon that I'm honestly looking forward to Rees Brennan's next book, Whisper.