Wednesday, June 3, 2020

An Accident of Stars (Foz Meadows)

An Accident of Stars
The Manifold Worlds series, Book 1
Foz Meadows
Angry Robot
Fiction, Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Saffron didn't mean to fall through a portal after school, but then who does? She just wanted to talk to the strange woman she'd met on the high school campus earlier - the first person to ever take the time to listen to her, and to stop the class jerk from harassing her. Now she's a stranger in a very, very strange land, where people are more likely to ride furry, two-legged beasts called roas than horses, where the sun is too big and too white, where there are two moons in the night sky, and where magic is real. The older woman, Gwen, is a worldwalker, originally from Earth but now a traveler to many of the manifold worlds. She didn't mean to take on a young charge, especially not at a time or in a world like this; Kena stands on the brink of a bloody war, with a tyrant leader and his zealot, heretic queen ready to topple generations of peace. Now that the teenager is here, though, Gwen can't shirk her responsibility to a fellow worldwalker. Saffron quickly becomes entangled in the thick of things, caught up in a story that, unlike stories of Narnia or Wonderland, may not have a happy ending for the girl from Earth.

REVIEW: Few things put me off a story like heavy-handed messages and incompetent, whiny characters. An Accident of Stars wallops me with both almost right out of the gate, and never entirely lets up.
Saffron is a girl many readers can relate to, the awkward teen in class who is picked on incessantly (with less than no assistance from adults)... but she handles herself so awkwardly and incompetently, making such childishly impulsive decisions, that I soon lost whatever sympathy I may have initially had. She flails, she panics, she freezes, she stumbles, all at the least opportune moments - but often only for a moment, and not in the sense that she pulls herself together. Once, she even stops in the middle of what she's doing, screams at the top of her lungs in a full-blown panic as the enormity of being trapped on a hostile and magical world sets in (an understandable reaction, though it could've used a bit more setup), stomps and demands to go home like a little kid - then a second later she's over it, and everyone forgets it, and it's never mentioned again (a far less understandable reaction.) Nor is she the only character prone to weird mood swings... and inexplicably coddled by those surrounding her, though she'd seem to be a survival liability. I'm not sure there was a character I actually liked in the whole book, to be honest.
Meanwhile, Messages about sexism and prejudice clog the plotline, characters often descending into mouthpieces to remind me that sexism is bad, that prejudice is bad, that zealotry is dangerous... Again and again and again, the story grinds to a halt as people wend through long internal monologues meant to enlighten me, the reader, who had evidently forgotten the last time - a mere few pages before, in some instances - the author addressed the same issues... issues that often have little if anything to do with the current plot predicament. Though things happen almost from the start, the frequent brake-slamming for these messages (and the often-exaggerated nature of the characters, all the better to preach with) made it difficult me to immerse in the story, which involves tangles of politics and family lines and rivalries and gods and nationalities and a veritable forest of nigh-impenetrable names: names of people, names of gods, names of magic disciplines, names of this and that and the other.
Add to all that formatting issues that often had me confused about who was talking or whether I'd jumped to a new scene or even if what I was reading was dialog or not (I spotted multiple instances of missing quotation marks), and by the end it was all I could do to convince myself to keep turning pages... and then the ending is merely an unsatisfactory pause on a longer arc. These problems cost the book a solid half-mark in the ratings, as they significantly impacted readability.
An Accident of Stars does have some nice ideas, with some interesting potential in the politics and the matriarchal world, but I couldn't enjoy it through the iffy characters, the tangential messages, and the just plain inexcusably poor formatting.

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