Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Naming by Alison Croggon

The Naming

The Naming
by Alison Croggon

Trade Paperback: 492 pages
Publisher: Candlewick Press
First Released: 2002

Source: Bought from Books-A-Million

Back Cover Blurb:
Maerad is a slave in a desperate and unforgiving settlement, taken there as a child when her family is destroyed in war. She is unaware that she possesses a powerful gift, one that marks her as a member of the School of Pellinor. It is only when she is discovered by Cadvan, one of the great Bards of Lirigon, that her true identity and extraordinary destiny unfold. Now she and her mysterious teacher must survive a journey through time and place where the dark forces they battle stem from the deepest recesses of otherworldly terror.

This book is an epic fantasy, the first of a planned quartet. The novel is supposedly a young adult book, but I suspect that adults would be more willing to stick with it to the end. Much of the book is very slow in pace. The middle sections are mainly a travel log describing the places Maerad and Cadvan travel through. The level of detail is much, much more than is needed and only slows already un-tense sections even more.

The author occasionally uses some odd word choices (perhaps because she's Australian), but everything is understandable.

Despite the level of detail, the world-building was only okay because much of the time the main characters are in the wilderness or not interacting with other people. I was left feeling like I didn't know or understand the world very well. Cadvan, the teacher who is supposed to enlighten Maerad (and the reader), keeps putting off his explanations. I'm left knowing a great deal about the landscape, a bunch of intricate but insignificant objects (furniture, etc.), and some ancient history, but very little about the current history and politics which are supposedly driving the character's actions. [Note: Some of this information is included in the 21-page Appendices.]

The characters were not uninteresting, but the reader is kept at a distance from the main characters (and their secrets) until the end. Then, they get interesting! Unfortunately, I'm not willing to slog through the over-descriptions again (since the next book appears to also be mostly a travel log) on the hope the characters will stay interesting.

I also felt betrayed by the last two pages of the book. The book sets itself up as a clear "good v.s. evil" story. Yet at the end, Cadvan (a TruthSeeker who can see when a person is lying and can force a person to say the truth even when they don't remember it themselves) says that truth is relative and can change from person to person. On the final page, Maerad sees a vision that makes her conclude that evil is not only necessary but is beautiful. This goes against everything the author established in the previous 465 pages.

All that said, if you like slow, "fat" books, then you probably will enjoy this book. There was no sex or cussing. The magic in this world is basically normal speech but in a special, true language (which is sometimes written out for the reader and then translated). Overall, I'd say this is "a clean fun" novel.

Excerpt: Chapter One
For almost as long as she could remember, Maerad had been imprisoned behind walls. She was a slave in Gilman's Cot, and hers was the barest of existences: an endless cycle of drudgery and exhaustion and dull fear.

Gilman's Cot was a small mountain hamlet beyond the borders of the wide lands of the Inner Kingdom of Annar. It nestled at the nape of a bleak valley on the eastern side of the mountains of Annova, where the range split briefly and ran out, like two claws, from near the northern end. Its virtue, as far as the Thane Gilman was concerned, was its isolation; here he could be tyrant of his domain, with nothing to check him.

It was a well-defended fortress, though no one came to attack. At the cot's back was the stone cliff of the Outwall, the precipice cutting sheer some thousand feet from the Landrost, the highest peak in that part of the range. Around the cot were walls of roughly dressed stone, rising to a height of thirty feet from a base twenty feet wide. They tapered to four feet at the top, enough room for two men to walk abreast. At the front were stout wooden gates, which eight men or a wagon could enter with ease. The gates were barred at night and most days, except for hunts and when the hillmen came in their big wagons to trade goods, salted meat, cheeses, and dried apples for swords and arrows and buckets and nails.

About a hundred and fifty souls lived there: the Thane Gilman and his wife, who had been beaten to a shadow after bearing him twelve children, of which five still lived, and his henchmen and their women and bastards.

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