Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kay Kenyon - Bright of the Sky (Book Review)


"Bright of the Sky" (Amazon: US, UK)
by KAY KENYON
Format: Paperback, 453 pages
Publisher: Pyr (April, 2007)
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I'm getting a bit rusty, I read little and review less... This is one of the books I've read quite a few favorable reviews about in the past two years and the whole thing made me more than a bit curious, but when I finally got the book (a courtesy of Pyr Publishing) it lay gathering dust on my bookshelf for quite a while - it could be said the same for a helluva lot more books sitting on the exact same bookshelf, but let's talk about one thing at a time, shall we - and when I picked it up it was more on a whim (a personal quirk) and because of a certain feeling of obligation (to the publisher) rather than any real desire to read this title at that exact moment, and I believe I should warn you beforehand that this fact probably reflects (and somewhat mars I'm afraid) the impression that "Bright of the Sky" (BotS) left me with after the last page was turned.

BotS is the first book in KAY KENYON's light science fiction trilogy "The Entire and the Rose", that is followed up by "World Too Near" (2008) and finally "City Without End" which is scheduled for release on February 24 this year. In BotS we follow the story of once exceptional star pilot Titus Quinn, who disappeared in a space accident and was missing for more than a decade before he miraculously showed up on a distant colony world. He now claims that he, along his wife and daughter, sojurned in a parallel universe known as the Entire. The story is so unbelievable that he falls from grace from his former employers (Minerva company). Consequently, he isolates himself from the world and lives for his memories, until first scientific evidence of this possible parallel universe presents itself to the Minerva execs and Quinn turns out to be less of a raving lunatic than they first believed him to be. Minerva coerces Quinn into crossing over to do their biding, since he is the only one with any knowledge and expirience of this alien place. Quinn has no real choice but to accept, though he's priority is of a more personal nature -he's driven by a burning determination to find his daughter and his wife that were left behind in the Entire when he returned to our world with only vague recollections of what transpired there...

The author tries to picture Titus Quinn - the main protagonist and one of two POV's (the other being Sydney, his daughter) - as an extremely remarkable person bestowed with great intelligence and integrity, a true hero on whom the destiny of both world stands. His friends and allies adore or even worship him and his enemies loathe him without exception; no one remains indifferent to his presence as I saw it. I'm not saying that I disliked Quinn as it is (he is definitely not an anti-hero figure), but I did find him stalwart (not always in the positive meaning of the word) and, quite frankly, unremarkable. But my observations are in stark contrast to the way in which other characters respond to him in the book. He is a good guy by all means, but I'd as soon smack him as I would sympathize with him; the biggest discrepancy between my apprehension of Titus Quinn and KAY KENYON's portrayal of the man lies somewhere else though: Quinn is supposed to be a savant, a true genius, but I sadly didn't see him as one. He is way too naive, takes things more or less at a face value and solves problems in what I'd call too conventional ways to be a savant. I mean no disrespect to Ms.Kenyon, but it's really hard to create a believable savant character (it's that much harder if the character in question is the protagonist of the story) and this really grates on the plausibility of the characters she created.

The supporting cast is often more intriguing, likable and even complex than the main protagonist. The one who piqued my interest the most was Stefan Polich, the president of Minerva company: there is a short chapter around the middle of the book that that showcases KENYON's brilliant grasp of human character (but this is sadly the only example of it in this book) and I'd ironically - since this is a sidestep from the main storyline - call it the highlight of BoTS.

Sydney, Quinn's daughter that the Entire claimed for its own and sent to live among Inyx, a horselike sentient beings that live in the steppe, as an outcast, where she dreams of 'free bonds' with their captors and of overthrowing the evil Tarig rule. While I commend KENYON's imagination at creating a vivid alien world full of exotic places and beings that populate them, I can't go pass the naivete of the Entire's internal, and external for that matter, politics. Nothing really subtle here, everything progresses by the way of grudges, hate, coercion, stubbornness, longing, love, idealistic dreams etc. You get the picture. Another central figure, besides Qiunn and Sydney, is Anzi - a native of Entire who acts both as a dampener and a sidekick to Quinn. She admires Quinn and follows his cause almost blindly; she is a sort of a standard for how the rest of the people perceive Quinn. His alleged charisma and strength of personality are taken for granted at first sight and that bothered me some, because I don't think he deserves such 'royal treatment'.

The world that Key created is, as I already noted, lush and full of interesting ideas, but if you strip away all the layers and reveal the core, it lacks some indiscernible quality, substance and/or flavor that, let's say, the City of Camorr from Scott Lynch's "Lies of Locke Lamora" (review) undeniably possesses. The world of the Entire is somewhat fluctuating and not as defined by physical boundaries as our own. The only means of long-distance travel for the common people provides the river Nigh that connects all the distant lands in some astral manner. The Tarig, cruel overlords of the Entire, seem to withhold crucial technological knowledge from their subjects and herein lies their power. The human race of the Entire, the Chalin, are an approximate copy of the (ancient) Chinese people, but there is a well-justified reason behind this so this fact doesn't grate on the skeptic reader. There is also the Ascendancy - Entire's capital city - where the Tarig lords reside; I'd like to see more of it to be honest. We witness its preoccupation with bureaucracy and rules, but the more mundane aspects of the city, its underbelly and the life of the common people that give the city its life, is left unexplored, which is a shame really since the potential is there. Hopefully KAY KENYON returns to the Ascendancy in the following installments and breathes more life into it.

KAY KENYON is an apt storyteller and keeps the flow of the story smooth at all times. The prose is never clunky, extraneously verbose or bogged down with disposition; the writing is neither grand nor pedestrian and the fact that everything comes at seemingly the righ moment (i.e. perfect pace) makes for a smooth and enjoyable read.

Some of the themes pursued in this book are: (torn) loyalties, friendship, oppression, coercion, dreams of freedom (and democracy) and family love (the author makes it obvious that she highly values the institution of family and close relationship between relatives). There are no new grounds broken here and events flow by in middle-of-the-road fashion, so I'd day that this book is a safe bet for everyone that is not explicitly looking for a more morally ambiguous read. I'm not opposed to books and authors that think outside the box, but the 'clean' style suits BotS just fine.

While "Bright of the Sky" lacks exceptional qualities to be marked an unforgettable read, it is nevertheless an enjoyable enough and competently executed adventure to be given 'a thumbs-up'. It definitely sets good foundations for the sequels to build upon, so when I'll feel like reading a not too demanding sf adventure I'll definitely consider continuing with this series.
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~ Thrinidir ~

4 Comments:

Joe Sherry said...

You should stick it out to the next book. A World Too Near was a definite improvement and I think I had overall the same impression you had for Bright of the Sky.

ThRiNiDiR said...

Now I know that someone made it through the review :).

I'm glad that someone else had the same impression as me and I'll definitely take your word for the sequel. Thanks for dropping by Joe.

ediFanoB said...

I also made it through the review :-)

And now I'm sitting in front of the screen
and don't really know what to write....
Except you did a good job.
I feel indecisive. A part of me likes the book and the other part doesn't like it.

In order not to forget I put on my list.
But I still have to think whether I want to read it or not.

ThRiNiDiR said...

Hey ediFanoB,

if my review made one part of you like it and the other part of you not like it then I guess I succeeded in what message I wanted to convey with the review. Thanks for the compliments though, I appreciate it; about picking up BotS or not, you have to decide which part of you feels more alluring, the one that want's to read it and like it or the one that doesn't. Is this gibberish helpful? :D

p.s.: there is another variable that might help you make up your mind - the sequel is supposed to be (even) better.

 

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