Monday, September 26, 2011

Review: Chaos Tryst

Chaos Tryst
Chaos Tryst by Shirin Dubbin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This seems to be my week for the almost-greats. Y'know what I mean. I'm referring to those books that inch along the tightrope between 'Eh. It was good,' and 'This was awesome,' and they invariably fall off the wire somewhere in between. Chaos Tryst took the plunge closer to the 'Eh' side, which was disappointing.

Ariana (aka Ari) is a returner, a person who retrieves stolen artifacts and returns them to their rightful owners. She's also the daughter of two trickster gods, Anasai and Inari, and she's inherited a large chunk of their chaos magic. Maks's origin is somewhat fuzzier. He's a Bear shifter, the middle of three brothers, and he's the only one who got chaos magic from their mother. Maks makes a big deal out of being half Russian and half Gypsy, but since I'm not really up on Russian or Gypsy mythology, I couldn't really tell you where his parents fall on the the power scale or what Maks really is. Maks's characterization is where the book started to lose its balance. Ari is very clearly defined. She is a tricksy girl who tries to use her powers for good. When she's being tricksy, her kitsune spirit overlays itself on her physical body, but she doesn't actually turn into a fox. Maks literally turns in a bear and the bear seems to have its own consciousness because the bear knows it wants Ari while the man is still reluctant. Maks the man is also sulky as several of characters call him and he is largely inscrutable. You don't really see him fall in love with Ari. He goes from being murderously pissed off to I guess I'll help her out to We shall be wed!. I raised my eyebrows at that.

Furthermore, the world Dubbin has created bears the potential to be fascinating. It's like a cross between the comic book series Fables by Bill Willingham and Wen Spencer's Tinker (I need Spencer to write faster. Like seriously). However, the reader is never given any framework for understanding it. It's like there's a refugee camp crammed full of every mythological being ever created, regardless of ethnic origin, and inhabitants refer to themselves as Faebles. To make things more confusing, the implication is, Ari aside, that the characters' first language is of the country their myth originated from. For example, Inari's dialogue reads like a native Japanese speaker translating her thoughts into English. Maks's dialogue has a Russian flair. So it begs the question: why are they here and not there, and why is English the common-use language?

It sounds nitpicky when I re-read it, but I firmly believe that if an author is going to create an elaborate fantasy world, they need to establish a logical framework within it. When Maks and Ari touch, their chaos magics spiral together and create havoc. Okay, I can buy that, but why? Is it because they are meant to be together? Did their magic ever spring out of control when they were children? Can they manipulate events to kill someone? Is chaos magic only passed down trickster bloodlines? Why did Maks inherit the magic, but not his brothers?

Also, after some chaos incidents, Dubbin throws in a section, '2 minutes prior' or whatever, where the reader is told how the chaos incident happened. I don't understand why this wasn't just part of the story. Why do I need a flashback for this? Why can't it be in the linear narrative?

I can keep asking question after question about various aspects of the story, which is basically my point. A story can have a good foundation and be crappy (see the vast majority of fanfiction), but if the foundation is riddled with cracks, the story is going to collapse within itself.

I'm keeping this at three stars because I would read a sequel. The flaws within Chaos Tryst are definitely fixable so another story set in this world has the potential to be very good, if it can just keep its balance long enough!

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