Review: Sunstone by Freya Robertson

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Publisher: Angry Robot
Publishing Date: March 2014
ISBN: 9780857663900
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2.0/5.0

Publisher Description: The sequel to Heartwood is here!

The Incendi elementals that dwell beneath the mountains have found a way to tap into the Arbor’s roots, which stretch not only across the land but also through time, and King Pyra is determined to crush the ancient tree. Twenty-two years after the defeat of the Darkwater Lords, Chonrad’s widow Procella and their three children are drawn back to Heartwood to investigate the rumour of strange fires springing up across the land. Across three separate timelines, the heroes must battle to join together their ancient sunstones, to overcome the Incendi threat, and to protect the Arbor and make earth victorious once more.

Review: Cover art is pretty good this time. Heartwood was good too, just not accurate.

This novel takes place down the road a bit from the first installment. Another threat to the Arbor, One Tree, whatever, is mounting with time-skipping fire elementals and the various timelines colliding at an “Apex”.

I feel like Procella does about the Arbor Tree. Its a big life sucking fuckwit. It needs a human sacrifice (chosen one) to consume on an annual basis, which is kind of sicko. Why not just feed it a fresh corpse once in a while. Why sacrifice good or still contributing people? Or feed it a goat maybe. Not only is the Arbor kind of a reverse cannibalistic vegetarian, it calls whomever it needs in order to continually suck the life-force out of them, like Procella’s husband whom dies living that association. I would like to see the Arbor burn except that the planet might cease to exist without its presence. Its like an alien player in a reciprocal altruistic relationship (the benefit to the receiver would have to be larger than the cost to the donor). And well the cost to the donor is death.

The depth of the story line was more involved with this iteration, yet failed to take your imagination to an interesting place. More of the same world building ideas but mired in “feelings” and “inner questions” and rampant dialogue. I kind of miss the first novel, where you had “celibate” knights of the Arbor prancing around and screwing everything that wasn’t nailed down.

My main issue with this particular installment resides in the author finding her voice. It is almost like a different person crafted this novel. Not a bad thing really, but I think she went in a different direction to the detriment of the world she previously built. There are WAY more pages of filler with regard to individual scenes where the characters ruminate internally about every possible angle or instance that lead up to their current position. What that does is stall the movement as it is rendered in such a way that it does not build character depth but rather creates whiney interludes.

Especially Sarra. Fug. A real first class whiner. Real snoozer of a character too. See, she is preggers by some high ranking dead dude, and still lives in utter squalor, BUT…….the Chief Select (Comminor) of the underground (Embers) and every hot guy within firing range wants her. Because she has this “hidden depth” about her, that she herself fails to see (which only makes her more alluring). So the Ember-dude gets to bang her, well because he can, and she lets him. Her excuse is that if she didn’t he would know her band of peeps were escaping to the surface. But Sarra is conflicted about Comminor because how could a heartless leader make love/rape so tender? Double fug. Again with Sarra and a few others we start to run into the NRSOW (Nora Roberts School of Writing), where human desires supersede rational thinking. Comminor is constantly internalizing his love/anger for Sarra and his “special connection” to her. Ummm, yeah. You and every other guy out there.

The fight scenes continue in their usual tradition of being absurd. Procella is the former Dux of Badassland, and takes out a bunch of guards, and the big-bad guy, Hunfrith. All in a few minutes, inside a tavern. There is this garish descriptive quality to the fight scenes that makes you feel like you’re in a Robin Hood movie. “HAHA! No one will be allowed to best me, the greatest knight ever!!! HA HA!! Why I have had more battles than you have teeth in your head…HAHA!!! I will allow no Wolfian scum to soil my good crotch…HAHA!!” Or Hunfrith and his guards talking about raping her repeatedly, and how much fun they are going to have passing her around. It is like talking to Dr. Evil.

My last issue is more with the overuse of phrases and certain words that tend to expedite the scene development rather than building scenes that are robust. I lost count of the phrase (and similar phrases) that utilized “wryly”. He smiled wryly…she grinned wryly etc. etc. Also the phrase “He moved his thumb over her cheek”, or “moved his thumb across her lips”, or what I dreaded most and lost count of was “cupped his/her cheek”. You might have been able to hear my moans of despair every time that phrase was used. At one point the author uses “cupped cheek” and “thumb brushed” in the same sentences. Triple fug. This is usually evidence of an indie author, or an author in the early stages of a writing career. It is akin to a downspout dripping water. If you focus on it, it will drive you crazy.

I really want to like this series. I think it is a great story line with an inventive world in which to create within. The characters are not rendered favorably enough to exist in this world in a believable manner. Dunno why Angry Robot books keeps publishing this particular author. I usually associate their publishing house with quality cutting edge scifi/fantasy. They might want to invest in a good editor or a few beta readers to refine their selection process.

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