Thursday 21 January 2010

Starman - Sara Douglass

Starman is the third in the Axis Trilogy by Sara Douglass. In this book the final battle between Axis and his half brother Gorgrael will take place; the identity of the Lover is revealed; and finally WolfStar shows his true colours. This book is absolutely packed with events, as the first two were, and positively glitters with the force of Douglass' very vivid imagination.

I don't dispute that Douglass has managed to churn out a fairly effective fantasy trilogy. The world building is top notch, and the character development has been vigorous - especially when thinking back to the first book. These characters have definitely come a long way! I was unable to resist finding out what happened to Axis, Azhure and Faraday, which I guess is most of what can be asked from a novel.

That is not the whole story, though. Although I felt compelled to finish the trilogy, I am not desperate the read the next trilogy (also set in the world of Tencendor). In fact, I would manage if I never picked up another of this fairly prolific author's work.

The writing is clumsy, some of the characters are walking cliches, and I found some key scenes rather funny - even though I knew I shouldn't be laughing. The dialogue follows a tiresome 'he said, she said' formula - and most of it was extremely melodramatic (along the lines of 'I couldn't live without you etc).

At times I wanted to slap certain characters - Azhure chief amongst them. Yep, I still can't get past the whole 'village girl makes good' element of the story. At other times I rolled my eyes at plot devices - here the gems with souls (chitter, chatter!) were a lowlight.

And yet Douglass presents us with the Icarii - a proud race of winged people, angelically beautiful, who use the power of the Star Dance to perform their enchantments; a race whose children are awakened in the womb and then sung through birth to ease their panic. These ideas leap off the page - and led to the one really interesting subplot with DragonStar and RiverStar, the twins of Azhure and Axis. I love how these children are made out to be indifferent - even hateful - to their parents because of events they felt while still in the womb. It was incredibly unusual to see children written about in a negative fashion, and all the more intriguing for it.

From there she reaches the low of using cloying and sickly names such as Dear Man, Friend and sweet boy. Ack! Also, how on earth can Faraday and Axis become Best Friends Forever after what has transpired in previous books? I'm just baffled by the extreme consistency of Douglass' writing.

I leave you with a quote from the book which can very effectively sum up both this and the preceding two volumes: "It was a sadly anticlimactic end to what had been a sometimes grand but often tragic campaign."


  1. The genre needs more clear eyed critique like this and less of the misty-eyed hyperbole it has suffered from for a couple of decades. Given free reign to one's imagination and simply unfettered self-indulgence are distinctions that need to be highlighted. What I call 'the moggy factor'. When some cat character appears in a fantasy novel (or a dog) and you learn the author loves cats or dogs and all these twee in-jokes are palpably contained therein by putting their moggy in their books.

    Granted this was Sara Douglass's first published work. It will always show, especially when it comes to secondary world building. Speaking of which and of hyperbole: you could be forgiven for not thinking so, because not a week seems to go by at the moment without a new fantasy author first timer being hailed as a budding genius to the genre. That goes with the territory, I suppose: author friend blurbs, in-house publisher author blurbs and even some, *some* online reviewers being more favourably disposed than they otherwise would be because of a rapport built up with publishers and the privilege of 'I saw it first ARCs' and even a rapport with the authors themselves. I know of the pitfalls myself in reviewing in other spheres. But frankly those writers and their work can't all be that good and frankly they are not!

    If only all critique of fantasy as a genre was as well considered as yours. There is other good stuff out there, though, it is true.

    The only way the status of the genre is going to be raised is in the crucible of such critique and not by the sort of closed ranks back slapping nepotism that can go on.

    And I wish Sara Douglass well in he struggle with cancer. 17+ novels and counting. Here's to more of them.

  2. Thanks Nick, I'm blushing. I like to think that I consider books in an objective fashion and I try not to let outside factors sway my review. For instance, I am aware of Sara's sad struggle with cancer and it left me wondering whether I dared be quite as harsh with my reviews of her Axis trilogy as I have been - it seemed a bit like kicking her when she was down. But then I figured that it's important to give my view of the book. Other people will have wildly differing views on the book. Eventually you'll end up with a balanced opinion, if you read enough reviews.

    I would say give the series a try, if you haven't already, because my view is a very personal one dictated by my own tastes and ideas. Other people quote Sara Douglass as their favourite author.

    Thanks so much - it's always great to hear feedback on reviews.

  3. Indeed. She's on a very long list!