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Feminist Killjoy. Badly Behaving Bookliker. Writer and reader of all things speculative. 

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The Raie'Chaelia - Melissa Douthit

I've read a lot of books in my life, but few as bad as The Raie'Chaelia. This steaming pile of plotless, poorly written, overlong drivel, with its hole-riddled and inconsistent world-building, its puerile prose and dialogue, its constant info-dumps and dull, sparkless characters, makes Alexandra Adornetto's Halo look positively literary in comparison. Worse still, The Raie'Chaelia is so overburdened with cliches, one cannot help but wonder, at times, if it's meant to be satire. Unfortunately, I believe it's entirely in earnest.


Right from the beginning of the prologue (in and of itself a cliche) alarm bells start ringing. The reader is treated to an overly detailed description of the weather--a big no-no, as anyone with real writing knowledge can tell you--and a castle near the sea. The forces of Good and Evil are introduced (we know they're Good and Evil, because Good is represented with white and light colors, where as Evil is represented with black and red) amid clunky, juvenile prose like this:


He glared at the chained man with hateful eyes, dark and full of scorn, shimmering with a red gleam of fire. They wanted to burn what they saw before them as the torchlight danced devilishly across his face.


You see? Instead of actions, we're given a load of cliche and unsubtle phrasings--"hateful eyes, dark and full of scorn" "red gleam of fire" "torchlight danced devilishly across his face"--to tell us what we're supposed to know. I don't know about you, but the "red gleam of fire" doesn't strike me as particularly scary or evil. In fact, none of this does. Yet this is how the entire book is written; not just with a surfeit of adjectives and adverbs, but with a lack of subtlety the likes of which is usually reserved for small children. For example:


“I can fight!” Chalice was defiant. She did not want to run like a coward.


Everything in that sentence after "I can fight!" is nothing more than padding. The dialogue alone shows Chalice's defiance, that she is not a coward and refuses to run from the minions of evil. While this book may have been written with a young adult audience in mind, one most always remember that young adults are young, not stupid. This level of hand-holding and simplicity wouldn't be necessary for anyone over ten (and that's a generous estimate).


This overwriting leads to prose that is at times painfully purple and often confusing. I'm sure this was meant to be beautiful and perhaps even thought provoking:


They rode for hours at a fast walk. It was all the horses could handle given the slope of the trail, which grew dangerously more narrow with altitude. Occasionally, it was so steep that the trail zigzagged, creating flat sections, which allowed the horses some respite from the grueling climb. What started out as a warm, autumn morning, grudgingly turned into a chilly afternoon, made even cooler with the ascent. The only warmth blew in periodically with a westerly breeze from the base of the mountain. As they climbed, the sequoias loomed taller, the trail slowly darkened, and the forest came alive with the sounds of wildlife. The farther up they went, the more astins and oadens they saw, which grew darker until they were almost an unnatural dark green. The forest was vibrant as the wind whistled through the branches and a strange sense filled the air. It was almost like a presence that whispered tales of things long gone and breathed life into the inanimate objects surrounding them.



Emphasis mine. And indeed, that does provoke a thought...mainly "Huh?" Again you see a clear case of telling rather than showing. We get all this description, and then we get told what we're supposed to feel about it. There's simply no connection to the world through the characters, nothing to pull the reader into a sense of what the characters are feeling. Perhaps this was an attempt at third-person omniscient point of view; if so, the attempt was a massive failure, as it has none of the charming tone of, say, The Chronicles of Narnia. In all honesty, considering the rest of the book, I'm pretty sure it's just bad writing at work, as there is no real feel of narrative tone third-person omniscient generally takes.


I could go on at quite some length about the prose, especially the many areas which are described in painfully detailed info-dump fashion, but that would require me to go back and look at some of it, even read it, and frankly, there are better ways to get a migraine. Besides, the dialogue has just as much to offer in terms of sheer awfulness. There's such an inane, babyish feel to so much of it. See Exhibit A:


“Women!” Jeremiah exclaimed, placing his foot in the stirrup of his saddle.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.

“Nuthin’,” he replied.

“Yeah, right!” she said sassily and mounted.


And Exhibit B:


“Oh, give it up Tycho! You fell of [sic] your horse because that happens all the time!” Kirna broke in.

“Nuh uh!” he said defiantly and she rolled her eyes.


And Exhibit C:


“Hey, slow down there champ! You’re going to choke yourself.”

“I wanfa getch fo fa fower,” she said with her mouth full of food.

He grinned widely. “Well, you won’t get there if you choke to death.”

She smiled at him and her stuffed cheeks puffed out.


Oh, I know, it's supposed to sound young, but also witty. And maybe if I was still a six-year-old, I'd find it witty. As it is, it just makes me cringe. Worse, the dialogue is used as another means of info-dumping, sometimes about details of the plot (if one can call a string of seemingly random events a "plot") and other times details of the world. The latter are usually extraneous, without any real use to the story, and not even all that interesting:


“What kind of fish do they have? Where do they keep it?” “It’s called tsökhí. They keep it stored in frozen, wooden crates located next to the village. The villagers at the top of the mountain catch tsökhí by ice-fishing on Lake Cancha, the frozen lake at the top, and trade it with the village for small crafts and materials, sometimes even for fruits and vegetables that are grown here. Bunejab says it’s really good.”


Yawn. (And yes, accent marks are thoroughly abused in such a fashion throughout the book.) All dialogue is either juvenile like the above, or info-dumpy, generally consisting of a round of questions and answers that make it painfully obvious how little skill this book was written with.


Still, a lot of bad can be forgiven if the characters in a book are compelling. Sadly, the characters in The Raie'Chaelia are pretty much the opposite. They're given a couple of personality traits--Chalice is "sassy", Jeremiah takes notes on everything, Tycho is a klutz who loves to eat--and set loose in this bland world to band together and have bland adventures. As there is a fair bit of focus on the "relationship" between Chalice and Jeremiah, it's even more disappointing that their romance is as boring and shallow as they themselves are. There's no spark between them at all; hell, when Chalice first sees Jeremiah, she doesn't even remember him. And then suddenly they're in love and want to get married. Yet except for the large paragraphs in which each character notes how good-looking the other is (and the times Jeremiah reiterates Chalice's beauty) the two of them barely even notice each other. They don't touch. Their eyes don't meet. They're not excited by each others' presence. This is supposed to be a forbidden love between two people whom society dictates should not be together. Where's the passion, I ask you?


Not in the other characters, either. There's no kind of chemistry anywhere, between any of them. Not even between Chalice and Kirna, who are supposed to be best friends. And no, the tree-hugging non-cannibalistic Ewok-alikes were neither interesting nor amusing. And look, I am that rare creature--a fan of Wicket Wystri Warrick--but having him run around as some mystical earth-loving woo-woo healer aiding our so-called heroes did not tickle my fancy. I suppose the world-building was supposed to be unique? I mean, we had a hidden heir (Chalice, the princess), lost civilizations, magical beasties, castles, evil minions of evilness--really, everything any reader with experience already knows from so many other fantasy books. I had heard that this book is meant to be set on post-apocalyptic earth, and while I read far enough to see hints of that, I didn't make it far enough to see how it all panned out. Not very well would be my guess, though. It's hardly the first time I've heard the idea, but it could have been interesting; instead it makes the confused world-building all the more confused.


There seems to have been a desire for medieval level technology without the need to first study it; at the same time, there appears to be a desire to add some quality of supposed uniqueness--i.e. the post-apocalyptic earth aspect--without the need to study what that would entail. Thus there are new "races" (except not really, as there are only Ewoks and magic-using/non magic-using humans) without evolution; instead, they were literally magicked into being by special magic water that um...just appeared, I guess. There's a second moon that has also just appeared, and...and...and the earth apparently now spins in the opposite direction. I shit ye not. The sun rises in the west and sets in the east. I would hardly call myself an expert in any area of science, but I didn't need to ask or Google to know that was absurd.


And oh, the inconsistencies! I have never been the sort who feels all high fantasy must be modeled on medieval Europe and full of Ye Olde Butchered Englishe dialogue, but consistency is still necessary. Jeremiah's family has a refrigerator, indoor plumbing and electric lights, but he needs flint and tinder to light a fire. Because the match was a hard concept? As they don't share their wondrous technology with anyone, most people (with the exception of the special mystical Ewoks) are left to...actually, I don't know. Even small villages have specialized industry, like cheese shops and silversmiths. The only bit of poverty we come across is a village that still has readily available goods such as fresh bread, meat, fruit and vegetables, ink, lamp oil, and a spice shop. There are indications of mass industry everywhere, as literally every metal fixture in the book is made of silver (including an outdoor fountain). Materials like marble and porcelain can be found everywhere. The bad guy, Dar'Maalda, is supposed to be making the people suffer, making them poor and miserable, yet every place Chalice and Co visit aside from that one village is opulent and/or idyllic. There's lost ancient technology, but then the Ewoks have their own mystical magical technology as well, that allows them to have massive indoor biodomes to grow food in. Yet at the same time, they live in huts. This is post-apocalyptic earth, at least thousands of years in the future, but horse breeds like Thoroughbreds, Appaloosas, and Quarter Horses (all very specific) still exist. Someone really needed to make up their damn mind and when they couldn't, well, in went everything including the kitchen sink.


Finally, I want to address a particular issue. Racism is nothing new to speculative fiction in general and high fantasy in specific, and like so many of its predecessors, The Raie'Chaelia gets its Ick on in that department. Both Terravailians (magic users) and Naeon (non-magic users) are supposed to be human. Yet they're not allowed to marry and have kids with each other, and even those who break this taboo normally don't manage to produce kids. What? If they're both human, that makes no sense. But it gets more uncomfortable. The reason for this segregation between "races" is because Terravailians literally cannot harm the earth--they cannot mine, cut down trees, absolutely anything that harms the earth--and need the Naeon to do it for them. So the Naeon are farmers and foresters, miners and butchers, craftsmen of all types really, serving the Terravilians, who are supposed to protect them. Add to that a villainness named Jezebelle, who has tan skin and dark hair (in direction opposition to Chalice's fair features) and once again a fantasy book produces at times vague but undeniably uncomfortable shades of racism. (And no, I have no idea why Dar'Maalda can use magic but still harm the earth.)


All in all, The Raie'Chaelia reeks of a desperate grasp for an air of beauty and otherworldly majesty that it cannot hope to achieve. There is the definite sense of a lack of care; the constant info-dump tangents that add nothing to the book speak of the kind of ego that thinks its every clever idea must be included in the work. In truth, a lot of time would have been better spent researching finer points of detail, rather than including useless tidbits on astronomy and moonbows--not to mention on actually making this a good book. Though if I'm being completely honest, The Raie'Chaelia is too riddled with problems to ever be a good book. It is that work all writers have, the one that should be locked away in a dark corner and only see the light of day when we take it out, look at it, and think "Oh dear god, what the hell did I even think I was doing?" If one loves one's own work too much to see that, it's inevitable that some reader (in this case, me) will one day be reading said work and be thinking exactly that. What the hell did I think I was doing, reading this time-wasting tripe? I may never know.