Occasionally, I come across a book that has me so conflicted I have a really hard time trying to review it. It's usually because it's a beautiful book, but the contents are just so disturbing you feel a little singed at the soul by reading it.
This for me this was like Gone Girl, you get it, but do you have to agree to like it? Or do you just agree that even though you like it, you can't possibly enjoy it? Or you enjoyed it, but do you actually like it? It's all quite confusing, and that's why this is quite hard to write.
I openly admit to outright loving the first two novels of A Pattern of Shadow and Light. In fact I think I said something to the tune of the best fantasy novels I have ever read. But this was... Not. I don't think.
Here's the beef: McPhail writes Paths of Alir as fantastically as the first two books, but the content is just beyond my ability to deduce what things are needed to drive a story and what is so utterly perverse it just makes me want to put the book down and shudder.
Why? Well, you can't say to much without spoiling the plot, but the gist of it is, let's gather most of the main characters, put them through some type of rape, sexual torture or sexual degradation to see how they rise above it. And I am not talking one character, I am talking the majority. Or make them do these things and then show how they can rise above it. Turn torture into love, or love into torture, pain into love or love into pain. Let's just fuck everybody over, and then see how they deal with being turned into sexual playthings.
I am no prude. I love a bit of fantasy sex, however McPhail skips over the consensual bits in a few sentences, but drags on and on for chapters over chapters about various sexual torture techniques used to break and mould the characters or how "it's my path, I must endure". I understand it's purpose and I am not saying it's not valid, I am just intimating it need not be the sole driving force of what this book or the series is about. And if it is, why the hell am I reading it? There is nothing about it that makes me feel good about this whole adventure. And fantasy should be an adventure, not a drag through the muddiest fields of soul rendering depravities. At least not linger on them so long the majority of the book is focused on them. And I understand, it is called the Paths of Alir and those paths of the light or the dark. So ,yes, this is about exploring those paths and what they mean within the realm and to the characters. I just fail to understand how it got to this place. Yes there was some aspects of it in the first two books, but not to this level.
(I keep thinking of the Malazaan Empire books as I write this, not sure why, and especially a certain avenue of crucifixion. I was revolted by the result, nauseous even, but even that to me was less disturbing than some things presented in PoA. I think I am connecting the two because Malazaan was brutal, and gritty to the point of a migraine, and some of the images in my head I'll probably take to the grave, but I didn't object to it as I did to PoA and I am trying to figure out why. Surely I should be more outraged by the happenings in ME books, but I'm not.. Is it because of the different stylisations? Is it because PoA tries to wield some sort of compassion for the perpetrators? Maybe it's simply because I think sexual violence is the most heinous offence, and I think it was shrugged off too lightly here because it was deemed necessary to make the players? This is something I must explore further within myself methinks!)
The disparity of the chapters and pov was also jolting. One minute we are seeing a a teenage boy falling in love giggly girly style and the next is about having a characters body being torn apart through sexual intercourse (literally bone breaking sex!). "Of course, the paths!" I should be saying to myself, but what I am actually saying is "wtf?"
The paths of Ean and Tanis were still flawless however. I almost found myself looking for their chapters to skip to, though I stayed my kindle finger and let it flow as it should. Onwards and upwards for those two! I was a mite flustered at Ean's disappearance from the book however.. He sort of got lost in the clamour of the last quarter..
The cracker is, I still feel for the characters and that's why I still liked the book even though I was disappointed for it at the same time. It kind of makes me feel dirty. *A sort of spoiler here* And don't even get me started on the last chapters of the book where a character loves another so much he binds himself to said character, even after the things said character has done to HIS MOTHER! And the reader should feel said character should be vindicated by this binding?! Now there's something to explore. What will he do when he finds out? Will he just accept it, "naw it wasn't his fault, he was compelled", or does the relationship get explored in more depth than that? Please let there be some type of conflict within it, or I will just chuck a hissy and walk away. *end of ranting spoiler*
I can't rate it. I just can't. My inner conflict is denying me the ability to make the decision. And maybe, like Gone Girl, that's why it is relevant, because it stirs you up to a point of confliction that you start to doubt what should and should not be considered really good works of fiction. And maybe that is the real kicker. Does the content of the book discount it's ability to capture one's imagination? I am still undecided.
(OK Ok, I rated it, but I still don't know that it was the right one.)