Reader Discretion is Advised; Things Are About to Get Weird
As a bespectacled young woman with tendencies towards introversion, I’ve read my fair share of fantasy novels. Some good, some not so good, and some so baffling bizarre that they defy all logic. Guess which ones we’ll be discussing today? That’s right, I’m going to talk about a couple series that went so completely off the rails that the only way for the author to end them was to destroy the whole goddamn world they’d created. Specifically, The Tide Lords Quartet by Jennifer Fallon and The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass. So y’know… major spoilers ahead and whatnot.
I Was Seduced by the Dark Side. When That Happened the Good Books I’d Read Were Destroyed.
As I recall the goings-on of these particular books, I feel the strong need to explain why I’ve read them. For I did not stumble on these gems completely by random. No, no, I had in fact read some of each the author’s previous works and so was lured in by their seemingly not insane fantasy adventures, complete with reasonable endings. I quite enjoy Jennifer Fallon’s Demon Child Trilogy, and if her follow-up Wolfblade Trilogy lacked the same spark, then it was at least good enough for me to think “Oh hey, she’s got another series. I should check it out. How bad can it possibly be?”
With Sara Douglass, it’s a slightly different case. See, Coles was having a 3 paperbacks for whatever sale and I picked up the first two books of the Axis Trilogy, but they didn’t have the third so I grabbed Sinner, the first book of the Wayfarer Redemption trilogy that follows it (though in North America, Battleaxe, the first of the Axis Trilogy was renamed The Wayfarer Redemption for the purposes of confusion).
Little did I know how fateful that decision would prove. My little teenaged self read the Axis Trilogy (I got the third book somewhere else) and was underwhelmed, but nevertheless thought that there were some interesting ideas so I gave it a pass (I’m willing to overlook a lot when it comes to fantasy if you give me some cool concepts or visuals).
At this point, I should run down the plot of that first trilogy since it’s connected to the insanity that followed. Basically, this dude Axis is the bastard of his noble mother and a magical winged guy named Stardrifter who also knocked up some other lady with a monster who now wants to take over the kingdom with ice wraiths. So Axis has to defeat his monster brother because of prophecy reasons. He also has a normal half-brother who is a major jerk and becomes the ruler and marries Faraday, the girl Axis
leered at during a banquet fell in love with. Anyway, before Axis goes off to fight ice creatures, he promises to come back and defeat his brother and marry Faraday. Stuff happens. Axis meets Azhure. He really likes her. And it’s quite clear the author liked her better than anyone else in the books too, because she eventually eclipses the main character and is given far more backstory and development. Also, she is literally turned into a goddess at the end. So is Axis (into a god, that is) but he is terrible. The jerk half-brother is far more sympathetic than his Golden God of a brother. But whatever, Axis meets his magical winged family, he knocks up Azhure (a couple times, actually), he discovers Azhure’s father was also a magical winged man, battles ensue, he kills jerk brother, lies to Faraday about his magical babies, she finds out and runs off to do tree magic then gets killed by monster brother, and finally Axis kills monster brother. Did I mention Azhure and Axis are distantly related? Remember that; it’ll come up again later…
I Felt A Great Disturbance in the Force…
I’m not going to lie. There were warning signs from the very beginning that these might not be the best books ever. Like the romance novel-like cover of J-Fal’s The Immortal Prince.
But I did not know then the madness that would follow. And actually, the first two books of the Tide Lords Quartet were pretty good. On top of having a cool name, Arkady, our protagonist, was a smart, if guarded, young woman. She was born in the slums, but ended up marrying a duke for their mutual benefit. The duke is gay, you see, and being married to her quells any suspicions about his orientation, while his influence allows her to pursue a career as a historian at the university. This part was handled surprisingly tactfully, I thought, especially the relationship between them and the mutual respect they had for each other. Enter the suicidal Immortal Prince, Cayal. A suicidal immortal, also a great way to start a series. And of course, Arkady and Cayal hook up. But there’s a suspenseful build-up and the first book is tightly focused on the pair of them. The second book opens up the world a bit and we see some of the other immortals roaming the land (the magical tide is coming in and they’re waiting to make their moves).
However, there were clues even in those books that things could go horribly awry. Like the race of cat-people and dog-people (and later a feisty chameleon gal) the immortals created to be their slaves. That was weird. I am uncomfortable reading about a romance between two dog-human hybrids.
Then there was Sinner. After my initial read of the Axis Trilogy, I never got around to reading Sinner. That is, until my last year of university when I saw it among my books and thought “Hey, this looks cool.”
There’s no pussyfooting around this one. It was terrible from the beginning. But I ordered the next two books because I. Could. Not. Stop. Reading. It was like watching a car crash in slow motion. While on acid. Then demons from space invaded. And everything became a red hypergiant-sized clusterfuck. (Is this where you got your ending, Mass Effect 3?)
The change between these two trilogies is so marked that I’m not even convinced Sara Douglass really wrote it. Maybe one of the alien overlords/Timekeeper Demons replaced her with a crazed Faraday fangirl out for revenge. Because the retconning that goes on over these three books borders on total. Everything good about the first trilogy is replaced by something terrible and psychotic. We go from magical songs, glowing lakes, and moonflower blossoms raining from the sky to stomachs exploding from ingesting too many rocks, incestuous murder, and a scene so hilariously horrific that it deserves its own section.
I actually have a few theories on the change:
1. Douglass was pressured into writing this second trilogy against her will and turned it in with a “How do you like them apples?” The publishers printed it anyway.
2. After winning the Aurealis Award, Douglass decided she could – and would – do whatever the hell she wanted. Haters be damned!
3. After the first trilogy she read a bad review and went berserk, Jenny Schecter-style. This trilogy is the result of said meltdown.
I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This
Back over in J-Fal land, at the end of the second book, Arkady is sold into slavery and it’s at this point that her personality begins to shift from what’s already been established to her just doing whatever is convenient to the plot. And she is only the first of the landslide of characters becoming unlikable and irredeemable. Cayal, the Immortal Prince, is made obnoxious so that we’ll like Declan, Arkady’s childhood friend and other love interest (because there always has to be a love triangle). Declan is made immortal because J-Fal decided to change the rules midway through after establishing that Cayal extinguished the Eternal Flame that created the immortals. Arkady’s husband is revealed to have kept her father alive and imprisoned all these years because… I don’t know… Fallon didn’t want us to feel bad about him dying when she killed everyone at the end?
A series of random crap occurs. All the humans want to kill the immortals. All the immortals want the MacGuffin Crystal… sorry, the Chaos Crystal.
As for S-Doug… I don’t even know, man. I gave all three books to the Salvation Army so this is all from memory. Here’s the gist of what I remember: alien Timekeeper demon/gods, people going crazy if they go in the sun, there’s a labyrinth underground(?), everyone loses their magic/godhood (sorry Axis & Azhure, your previous storyline is now irrelevant). The general plot is that Axis and Azhure’s son, Dragonstar, whom they aren’t very fond of for something that happened when he was a baby (because it makes total sense for an otherwise loving mother who grew up a friendless outcast to be totally ambivalent to just one son) goes off to space through a Star Gate and learns that the world is in danger, blah, blah, blah and comes back to team up (and hook up) with Faraday (yeah, the dead chick who was his father’s lover… then a doe… then back to human) and a rainbow lizard.
I’m still not sure what the lizard had to do with it all… but it was there and it was technicoloured. Hey, remember when I mentioned incest before? Well, there’s a lot of it in this series. We find out that Axis’s firstborn son was sleeping with his sister and he was the one who killed her at the beginning of the trilogy so she wouldn’t squeal. What does that have to do with anything? I don’t remember. I think Dragonstar may have been blamed for the death. There’s also a dude with antlers who is Faraday’s secret son from that time she slept with Axis, and I seem to recall him being angry a lot.
And then we come to the scene I’ve been alluding to. If you’ve read the title of this post, you know someone’s throwing a fetus, but my God, it’s so much more than that. Let me paint you a word picture. Axis’s daughter, Zenith (I think), has a bit of a problem. The spirit of her grandmother is trying to possess her (for some reason Azhure is fine with this because this is bizarro world and she’s now terrible). While granny has control of her, her grandfather (an ageless magical winged man) comes and rapes her. Now, to be clear, this is her maternal grandfather, Wolfstar, not her paternal grandfather, Stardrifter who also wants her and who everyone thinks she should totally get with. See, in the Sunsoar family, parent-child and sibling romances are off limits (hence the murder business) while everything else is encouraged. So, Zenith manages to get back control of her body and her first act is to punch herself so hard in the stomach that she miscarries instantly. She then rips the fetus out of her and hucks it at her rapist grandfather.
This is one of the single most disturbing passages I have ever read. My reaction: laughter. I mean, what else could I do?
Writing tip: if your story is a compendium of random, increasingly outlandish crap happening, your readers will fail to connect emotionally. That means they won’t care what happens to your characters, no matter how terrible and shocking the things you inflict upon them are.
As If Millions of Voices Suddenly Cried Out in Terror and Were Suddenly Silenced
Back to J-Fal. I honestly think she didn’t know how this series would end when she started writing. There are so many contradictions and loopholes, and the scale gets progressively larger and more convoluted and crazy until the immortals are magically boogy-boarding (not a joke) to the equivalent of Antarctica to get to this Chaos Crystal. The Crystal goes off, the planet explodes, and some of the immortals escape through a portal and create Earth. And thanks to a convenient last-minute deus ex machina, an immortal Arkady is later found alive on an asteroid. (I guess she chose the renegade option.)
And that’s it. Nothing is resolved, there’s no meaning to anything that took place at all, and we’re left wondering how close they are to developing an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-type mind bleach.
Same goes for The Wayfarer Redemption, but there it’s only a single continent that’s obliterated. I can’t explain exactly why, but everyone ends up in heaven and Dragonstar and Faraday become Adam and Eve or some shit. The only one to somehow escape the fiery cataclysm is the non-rapist grandpa because I guess he’s in the next series? Whatever. I’ll never know.
You‘re All Clear, Kid! Now Let’s Blow This Thing and Go Home!
Moral of the story? “KABOOM!!!” is not an appropriate way to end your fantasy series or any story for that matter, unless it’s specifically about the impending apocalypse.
I mean, really? Really?