Saturday, June 19, 2010

Girl on Book Action: The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker

The Anvil of the World by Kage Baker
ISBN: 0-765-34907-8


Kage Baker’s first fantasy novel is the tale of Smith, of the large extended family of Smiths, of the Children of the Sun. They are a race given to blood feuds, and Smith was formerly an extremely successful assassin. Now he has wearied of his work and is trying to retire into safe obscurity in spite of all those who have sworn to kill him.

To get there, he agrees to lead a caravan from the inland city of Troon to the seaside city of Salesh. The caravan is dogged by murder, magic, and the brooding image of the Master of the Mountain, a powerful demon, looking down from his mountain kingdom upon the unwary travelers passing below.


My Thoughts:

If you’re looking for a quick, fun fantasy read, this novel might be a good bet. It’s fast-paced, hilarious in parts, but with an underlying criticism of our wasteful treatment of the planet. When it comes to environmentalist messages, Baker’s novel fairs better than the illustrious Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood, since Baker is never heavy-handed with her depiction of ecological devastation. Let’s finish with these generalities and get to the meat of the thing.

Lord Ermenwyr has to be one of my favourite supporting characters ever. At times infuriating, he provides not only comic relief, but also a decent amount of moralizing, world-building information and does a fine job of moving along the plot. And, at the end of the day, you just want to wring the sniveling little bastard’s neck, but in a loving, exasperated sort of way. Although, I suppose in all fairness to applying a critical eye, his interventions were at times a little bit on the side of deus ex machina. I’m willing to forgive this flaw, because I liked the nonchalant way in which he carried it off.

Smith made for an engaging lead, as well. I really have no complaints about him, his decisions make sense, though I think a bit more exposition of his past might have added depth to him. I understood why he acts the way he does, but his motivations could have been spelled out more forcefully. Although, the ambiguities may serve their own purpose, as when you get to the moment in the book you really don’t know what choice he’ll make.

I think my only real complaint about the novel is that some of the world building could have been stronger and more detailed. Most everything is explained at one point or another as the narrative progresses, I just wanted there to be more – more myth, more explanations, more descriptions. As it is, there is a complete world and a good narrative there, it just could have been…fuller.

One example where more explication would have been nice is that while there is Smith (the main character) there is also Mrs. Smith (no relation) and two further Smiths all within the first 30 pages of the book. Eventually, there is a creation myth that explains why the name Smith is so popular, but that is probably a good two-thirds into the story and at that point you could miss it if you weren’t paying attention.

Story-wise, I liked that there was a build-up to the main event. It almost felt like reading three novellas, chronicling the important events in Smith's life, so there wasn't a lot of boring exposition detailing his day-to-day life. While filling in some of these in-between times might have provided more of the world to allay my feeling that it could have been fuller, I think it worked well as it did. Baker doesn't let her story get bogged down in events that have no bearing on the story she wants to tell. What's important is that in each section, you learn about the world, the characters and you get a real sense of the people and this is what makes the book so strong.

Overall, I recommend this one. The characters make it memorable, if nothing else. I’ll be looking for more of Kage Baker’s books (well, at least I will be once I make a dent in my rather considerable “to-read” pile).

Post Script: The winner of the poll, with a unanimous six votes is His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik, which I'll be reading in the not too distant future.  Thanks to everyone who voted!

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