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Touchstone, Elsewhens, and Thornlost, by Melanie Rawn - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Touchstone, Elsewhens, and Thornlost, by Melanie Rawn [May. 24th, 2014|09:48 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Review copies provided by Tor Books.


These are the first three volumes of what I thought was a trilogy. It turns out no, not a trilogy at all, but a longer series, so the question, “how is she going to wrap this up by the end?” is answered with, “Oh. She’s not.” The series is called Glass Thorns, which in the context of this fantasy world translates basically as Syringe or possibly Bong or Crack Pipe: the Glass Thorns are the in-world drug delivery system. (Thornlost, the third title, is basically Stoned Out Of One’s Gourd, fantasy style. It is not going to be hard to find readers with more sympathy for this than I have.)


So the basic premise is that there are groups of four men (always four, always men) who perform magic theater, and it sort of gets a rock band dynamic going with the partying and the drugs and the women and like that. Except…I am kind of confused about why someone who wanted to do that scene would set it up to leave out the women who did that scene, and only have the groupies and outsiders–especially someone who was born in 1954 as Melanie Rawn’s bio says she was. Sure, the Beatles, the Stones, etc. were all dudes. But Janis, Aretha, Grace Slick, Mama Cass, Diana Ross…oh, never mind, you can make your own list. Point being, I honestly do not understand why you would set up a world to be ringing the changes on that subculture–which was, don’t get me wrong, plenty misogynist–and then say, “What we need here is way more misogyny.” Having the setup be that misogynist and then having one of the really unsympathetic characters be the Yoko Ono figure…from an entire race of Yoko Onos, basically the only “bad” race of the books passing magic through the female line…ick. And also ew.


(On this front, there is small social progress in Thornlost…tiny, tiny social progress…which is not particularly personally motivated by the stuff that’s been going on with these characters, so…yeah, good for the society I guess, kind of weird and random for these particular people.)


(Oh, and: I also really liked that there was approximately no racial purity in this world. Everybody was some kind of mix. That was good! Except…traits apparently breed true to blood lines in D&D/Batman villain style, with talents and appearance correlating strongly. That’s…less awesome.)


And then…the main character, Cade Silversun, sees visions of possible futures (the “elsewhens” of the second book title). And some of them are great and some are terrible, and pretty much all the really terrible ones involve the band–oh, excuse me, the troupe–doing massive quantities of drugs and drinking. And none of these jerks ever once says, “Huh, maybe we shouldn’t do that, then.” Don’t get me wrong: this is massively plausible if you’ve ever read anything about, say, John Belushi. I absolutely believe that if someone had visited John Belushi with knowledge of his future and said, “Dude, drugs are going to be really dangerous for you, they could end your career or even your life,” he’d have said, “Oh wow, so good to know, I’d better find exactly the right drugs so that that doesn’t happen!” So yes: plausible. Sympathetic and interesting? Not really. And Cade’s move to fatalism at the end of the third book would be a lot more interesting if he hadn’t been so completely fatalistic to begin with: “What can I do to avoid these horrible futures I see? aside, I mean, from actually doing anything significant, or telling my dearest friends about them. Even my dearest friend who knows I see the visions. And stuff. Um.”


I kept reading these books partly because of my misperception that it was a trilogy and would therefore have closure but partly because I am interested in theatrical troupes in fantasy. The use of magic to create specific theatrical experiences, and what their focus was, started out pretty interesting to me. I didn’t feel it lived up to that promise. Rawn did develop some of what the troupes were doing, but their intergroup dynamic was pretty stagnant–the two secondary members stayed very much in the background, to the point where I had to keep reminding myself which was which–and what development was there was more told than shown. There was room for a lot here, and frankly it might still get developed in later books, but I can’t imagine having the patience to sit through hundreds more pages of these people being drunk and high and angsting about what horrible people they might become and not taking particularly many steps not to become them.


Do I sound slightly bitter? I thought it was awfully nice of the people at Tor who send me books to send the first two when they found I didn’t have them, since the third isn’t a stand-alone, but I think it really should have said more to me that the publicity copy was not saying “stunning conclusion” or “triumphant ending” or anything like that. That’s really not Melanie Rawn’s fault. On the other hand, be aware that you will be in it for the long haul with the stoned-out drunk frat-prank whiners if you sign on with this series. That’s what you’re getting here, not…self-contained stoned-out drunk frat-prank whiners.


I really liked Melanie Rawn books when I was a kid.


I’m going to go read something else now.




LinkReply

Comments:
[User Picture]From: wordweaverlynn
2014-05-25 06:00 am (UTC)
Listing in "books to avoid."
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2014-05-25 07:34 am (UTC)
Yeeeeeah . . . I think I saw one of those books, and the premise sounded kind of interesting, but that description makes it firmly Not For Me.
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[User Picture]From: tanac
2014-05-25 03:45 pm (UTC)
I have given up on her being able to finish things, my trust was lost long ago.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-05-25 03:48 pm (UTC)
I have heard that from so many people, and I thought maybe this would be a project with shorter arcs that would try to win back people's trust that way. That's part of why I wanted to make it clear that, no, really not. If it does have a clear ending, she has not reached it yet.
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From: diatryma
2014-07-09 12:31 am (UTC)
I just finished all three. I don't think there's a clear middle.
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[User Picture]From: catlinye_maker
2014-05-26 02:02 am (UTC)
Thank you very much for this review; I am bogged down in book two and was going to finish because (like you) I thought they'd wrap things up in book three.

I'm just not willing to follow Cade into even more meandering doom and gloom.
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[User Picture]From: blue_hat_guru
2014-05-27 03:26 am (UTC)
Thank you for the warning.
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[User Picture]From: thanate
2014-05-27 03:27 am (UTC)
Uh, wow. Melanie Rawn is on my vague mental list of people I've been told were excellent and I should try someday, but that sounds like not this series. Are there any of her earlier books you'd recommend?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-05-27 03:36 am (UTC)
I honestly don't know. Her earlier books are things I haven't read in well over a decade, so I can't say what my present reaction would be. One's tastes do tend to change so. Unfortunately the things I remember being most charmed and fascinated by are series that never did get their ending, so even if I still liked them as much now as I did then, I'm not sure I'd recommend them as whole-heartedly knowing what I do now.
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[User Picture]From: thanate
2014-05-28 01:18 am (UTC)
That sounds like one for the "maybe some other decade" list, then. Uh, not that that isn't most things at the moment.
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From: diatryma
2014-07-09 12:36 am (UTC)
I didn't read this when you first wrote it because I figured I'd read the books eventually and didn't want your squeeing to be what I remembered. And then I read them, and wow, you have said every single thing I want to say except 'bang already' and 'nothing is happening'. Nothing happens! Repeatedly! For chapters and chapters and no one changes and once again, I am drawn to fictional bassists even when they are not bassists and sigh.

I have no idea how arcy the arc is. At the end of third book, nothing has changed from about a chapter into the second book except money and more blatant hints about Embezzling Manager, Evil Woman not even running her own show, and... yeah, that's about it.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-07-09 02:13 am (UTC)
Yeah, um, there was not squee to be had. Sorry. Maybe I should make a tag.
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From: diatryma
2014-07-09 02:18 am (UTC)
I wouldn't have read it anyway, so don't feel bad.
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