Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Blaggard’s Moon 3: Weak Points and Conclusion

Yesterday I mentioned some of the good points of George Bryan Polivka’s Blaggard’s Moon. But I also said there were negatives. I'll begin with some minor points I think are useful information, not major issues.

Violence. Remember what I said about realism? Pirates were a bloody lot, and while the actual gore is limited, there's plenty of violence. If you can get past the first chapter or so, you'll have a good idea what's ahead. It will probably be well within most readers' tolerance.

Slow reading. NOT BORING! They aren't the same thing. I just mean that this isn't the sort of book I'd speed read. It lends itself to a more leisurely pace.

Resolution. This is a serious one. And now, some Literature:

"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead," said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. ..."

The same goes for stories. I don't know why, but recently I've encountered a spate of stories that were great until near the end, where they took a catastrophic turn. Like flying a plane, takeoff and landing are the tricky bits.

So, without indulging in spoilers, I'll just say that there's a situation set up that simply evaporates, and what should have been a climactic encounter suddenly transmogrifies into Bambi Meets Godzilla. (To make matters worse, the justification for the dénouement simply doesn't work on two or three grounds. I didn't believe it, because it was a clear case where something happened only because the author said so.)

Similarly, the resolution of Delany's initial problem struck me as unlikely on several grounds, among them

1. Torture-happy necromancers are no more likely than pirates to be Really Nice Guys deep down and
2. Demons, being worse than pirates, would actually dance a jig in response to the mourning of the innocent.

Takeaway. The message readers are likely to pick up isn't uniformly good. It's quite possible to conclude that the only way to stop one evil is with an even more insidious evil--doing evil that good may come of it. Manipulative hypocrite conquers ordinary pirate, under-dressed Satanists overcome another ordinary pirate: the only good that comes from good is that it sometimes gets you off the hook. Or shot.

Now, as famous pirate humorist Skeel Barris said to a late friend who had just been shot through the brain, "I see what you're thinking." I suspect that the resolution/takeaway glitches derive from an attempt to show that the wrath of man does not accomplish the righteousness of God, or perhaps that whoever takes up the sword shall die by the sword. But these points could have been better made in other ways--and without the moral and spiritual ambiguity that arises here.

Conclusion. So I went from strongly in favor of the story to (at best) ambivalent, and that in the last sixty pages. Polivka is a great writer, and the story's about worth it anyway. But for me it's too close to call. Many readers will at most have a nagging feeling that something's wrong. They may agree with my assessment or not. If you're thinking of buying this book, check the reviews carefully first. Then flip a coin.

The rest of the CSFF blog tour probably won't be so indecisive:

Brandon Barr
Jennifer Bogart
Keanan Brand
Melissa Carswell
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Marcus Goodyear
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Mike Lynch
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Jason Waguespack
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I waited to read your two review posts until I'd written mine, Steve, just to see where we would agree/disagree.

Here's the thing. I read all three of the books in the trilogy, of which this is a prequel. Those books so clearly set a spiritual background, it is impossible to read Blaggard's Moon apart from that context--unless, of course, you don't have that context.

I think the same is true of the denouement, but to be honest, I'm not a hundred percent sure what you found troubling. Nothing seemed off to me. I thought it all worked. I thought it was maybe a shade rushed, but I thought it worked.


Steve said...

There were at least three problems with the Damrick/Conch endgame (Spoilers ahead!):

1. By the nature of the setup, they should have gone face to face.

2. Damrick would not have handled the situation as he did; it's a complete turnabout from his usual MO. There was an obvious alternative that he did not follow and I think should've.

3. If you look at who was where, and when, it was practically impossible for Conch to have done all he supposedly did short of teleportation. I can explain that if anyone wishes, though it would take a separate post.

While the general context may mitigate the takeaway problems in this specific story, I can't see it eliminating them. Hypocrisy triumphs, and a group as evil as pirates inconceivably turns out noble and almost godly for all its heathendom. (This is all the worse considering Pollivka's realistic and unromantic portrayal of pirates.) Ideas and actions have consequences, and consorting with the supposed spirits of the dead does not make you a Nice Person. If it did, God probably wouldn't mind it so much.

CherryBlossomMJ said...

I'm still reading it. I have a little less than a third of the story to go, and it is shocking to me how long it is taking me to read it. ( I missed the tour, long story short, family shock. ) I agree with what you said, it is a slow leisurely read, not a fast read.

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