Anne Kelleher, Silver's Edge (2004, Luna)
I tend to be a person with strong opinions. I will watch movies, read books, play video games, and judge for myself whether they are good or bad. After I joined the staff of Green Man Review, I was able to write reviews that described in detail just what it was about those films and novels that inspired a good or a bad reaction. After finishing a novel or a film, I usually have a decent, solid opinion of whether I enjoyed the experience or not. In fact, it is most uncommon for me to have no thoughts by the time I've reached the middle of the book. However, that is what happened to me as I read Silver's Edge.
By the end of the first chapter, I couldn't decide whether I liked the novel or not. By the end of the second, third, and fourth chapters, nothing had changed. By the ninth, the book continued to fail to produce a reaction with me. I began to panic. What's wrong with me? I'm a reviewer! Shouldn't I have any thoughts as to what this book is trying to tell me? How can I remain neutral? What would I write for the review?
That's what I'm doing now. This book wasn't wretched, but it wasn't entirely well-written either. The novel takes place around three entirely different worlds, the Otherworld, the mortal Shadowlands, and the ghastly Wastelands. The first world is ruled over by the Sidhe, young Alemandine Queen among them. The second world is populated by humans; Brynhyvar, the country closest to the barrier between the worlds, is in political turmoil, ruled over by a mad king and his ambitious foreign wife. Lastly, in the Wastelands, the banished Goblin King and his starving minions long for the taste of human meat. Their hunger has for centuries been denied, due to a magical barrier created by both the mortals and the Sidhe that has kept the goblins confined to their dreary world. Forged by a human smith and charged with Sidhe magic, the Silver Caul has kept the goblins at bay, as well as preventing anyone from bringing more silver, a metal fatal to Sidhe and goblins alike, into the Otherworld. However, just as a young Sidhe noble named Delphinea begins to suspect that the Caul itself may be poisoning the Otherworld, it is discovered to be missing, stolen by a member of the Queen's court. More problems arise when the corpse of a goblin washes up in the Shadowlands, alerting the suspicions of Nessa, a young female blacksmith whose father has gone missing.
One of the reasons for my neutrality towards the book is the author's delicate balance between breaking the clichés and wallowing wholeheartedly in them. For instance, some of the characters who are introduced as the heroes or villains of the piece at the beginning are slowly exposed in other personages' points of view to be quite the opposite. In fact, other than the rarely seen Goblin King, the actual antagonist of the novel is never revealed until half of the novel is already read. However, while the reader is never made entirely sure about who's on which side, the people themselves have personalities like cardboard cut-outs. There is the shy apprentice who secretly loves the beautiful tomboy he's grown up with. There is the barren duchess who has an affair with her husband's most trusted knight (my dear, Guinevere called, she'd like to have her moral failings back). There is even the man-Sidhe hybrid Prince who desperately wants to fit in. While the nimble manipulation of the narrative points of view shores up the characters' credibility, by the end of the novel there's no hiding the fact that they are bland and unoriginal. They could have been plucked from any brash Hollywood summer blockbuster. This novel left me feeling unsatisfied without exactly knowing why, like someone who'd just eaten a meal on an airline and wonders why she's still hungry. The people at Air Canada want to keep their customers full, right, so shouldn't she be? And I'm hopelessly addicted to faerie tales and fantasy, so a thick, heavy novel about Sidhe and princes and queens and knights and shy apprentices with hidden potential should be right up my alley. Right?
It could have been, if not for a number of issues. The dialogue is downright silly, similar to the fantasy attempts I wrote when I was nine, when I didn't really understand how people behaved in the Middle Ages and assumed they all acted like the shiny people in the movies. Men liberally punctuate their sentences with "My lady" and "Maiden" and silly pet names, as if they have nothing better to say to their females, which is the truth in most cases. The adventures of human society are also highly inconsistent. Every citizen of Brynhyvar is apparently practical enough to wear a silver amulet around their necks to protect them from Sidhe spells, even while the vast majority of human beings doubt they exist in anything but legend. What is worse, is that Anne Kelleher brings her tale to a screeching halt with the use of a blatant Deus ex machina just when (of course!) all seems lost, instead of creating an imaginative solution.
However, I must say I am grateful to the author for the use of such an out-of-the-blue plot device, because it finally helped me to make up my mind. I didn't really enjoy this book. While it didn't reduce me to groaning whimpers of despair upon learning that there will be more of these books coming to finish the series, I was left with no burning interest to find out what happens next. The entire experience was rather like getting my ears pierced, quick and painless, over very quickly, but not necessarily pleasurable. So, if you find a dog-eared copy of this book in your dentist's office, it might very well be a nice way to pass the time, but if you are looking for a series that is juicy enough to sink your teeth into, you could do much better than this.