Art's Reviews > The Ruins of Ambrai

The Ruins of Ambrai by Melanie Rawn
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Dec 02, 2008

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bookshelves: fantasy
Read in December, 2008 , read count: 1

Another one of those books I randomly plucked off the "Fantasy / SciFi" shelf in my local bookstore and, having not felt nauseous after the first page, decided to read through. The story itself is not particularly imaginative: a faraway place called Lenfell is suffused by magic, two warring factions vie for power after a horrid cataclysm and a worse cataclysm is coming unless a team of plucky young people can stop it. Against that background, the most interesting part of the book is the careful role reversal: women rule the world of Lenfell and men are subordinate to them. What's interesting about it is the careful way in which it's executed: the ruling women are not the screeching harpies of the misogynist's nightmare, nor are they the pulled-in-by-the-ears pseudo-Celtic "wisewomen" of Mists of Avalon. Instead, they are normal human females varying from saint to villain, except with somewhat (okay, vastly) more liberated libido and the easy-going confidence of a gender that's found itself on top (in all kinds of ways) for generations. Also interesting is the author's attitude towards this role reversal: it's not right, either, and she illustrates this by placing sympathetic male characters into the subjugated role, and having them rebel against the indignity. This setup does not always work as well as it could have and here it's chiefly Rawn's fault as a storyteller. Frequently, the intricacies of Lenfell's political structure (delivered with an infuriating thoroughness of a history book) lost me. Often, characters' comments on how a "proper, modest male" should behave sounded as a tin-eared attempt to make a point rather than a natural remark a person would make. And the incessant romances between beautiful people (not one character, except for one of the villains, was anything but some sort of muscular, sinuous, brilliant or eloquent) brought the story perilously close to a soap opera. Though, I must say, all that love in the air made the loneliness of one major character all the more poignant, and the scheming mating procedures of the villains all the more repugnant. Above all the book, though somewhat of a page-turner, definitely could have been shorter. That being said, I'll be seeking out the sequels becaues I really, really want to know what happens to all these beautiful people in that faraway matriarchal world.
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