Monday, August 28, 2006

The Prize in the Game

By Jo Walton.

Well-written but it becomes melancholy partway through, with practically inevitable doom resulting from a serious curse for what seemed like a wrong cause. There were some irksome typos ("how at" instead of "at how", "than" instead of "that", and so on) which suggested hasty publishing, though.

I have put off reading this book for at least a year, probably, since I read The King's Peace and The King's Name, because I knew at least some of what would happen to the characters in this book and didn't feel like getting to know them better. (This book concerns some events befalling certain characters before they appear in Sulien's books.)

This has much of the same flavor, but is perhaps narrower and less majestic. Sulien's story is hard to top.

The author's note at the beginning says that a candle casts a shadow both backwards and forwards, but I think I might recommend reading this before The King's Peace and The King's Name, although for the same reason you might arguably read them the other way around: certain events in those two books will change the way you look at Conal and Emer. I also have sympathy for Elenn; Maga is a horrible mother (and king) but forcing Elenn to marry four husbands in as many days is even more appalling than usual. It leads to some saying she bears a curse...

Worth reading if you read The King's Peace and The King's Name, too, either before or after. I don't think it would stand very well by itself; although The Prize in the Game is quite understandable on its own, I don't think it's worth reading without the greater context provided by the other two books.

Incidentally, the title refers to a kingship, but it seems to be almost a trivial matter, mentioned halfway through and not referred to directly again. I think the cost of winning the game is far more than the one who wins would ever have willingly paid, but the narrative never says that explicitly. The last (one-page) chapter is also somewhat ambiguous: is the last line casting judgment or only noting a simple truth?

Update: The other thing I wanted to mention was how every warrior knows charms to heals wounds, prevent "weapon rot" (blood poisoning), reattach limbs, etc.--as long as the weapon that dealt the wound is available. Consequently, they all tend to come through battles either alive and with very few consequences or permanently dead. Almost no one in these books dies slowly. They take fighting very glibly as well, and that's part of the reason these are melancholy; diplomacy is not much employed and often enough you end up fighting against the side your friends are on. I think the consequences of a system like that in the real world would be horrific.

I should also mention their suspect beliefs about fertility: women are not fertile before their wombs are opened by a priest when they get married, and not wanting a child can cause a miscarriage. (Admittedly the first one is proved wrong more than once in Sulien's books, so I guess not even they believe it entirely...)


Amber said...

It always makes me laugh that you notice the typos. Lots of people wouldn't even notice. But I'm right there with you - I always notice if a book has typos, and usually if it has one, it has a few. For me, it takes a determined spirit to take a book as seriously as I did after the typos as before the typos.

I often helped my friends in school by reading over their papers before they turned them in to catch errors (mostly split infinitives and incorrect apostrophe or semicolin use). The difficult thing about correcting friends' papers, though, is when they're not good writers to begin with, and you want to say "Look, the punctuation is the last thing you need to worry about." But it's a lot more time consuming to help them write a quality paper than just to fix spelling errors...

I think noticing stuff like that just comes naturally to you and me and other people, and to some people it doesn't at all. Me and my mom can do this; my dad and sisters can't. Of course, I have to assume they excel in some other areas for which I have to rely on them...

Prepositions are bad things to end sentences with. (heehee!)

Joshua said...

I disagree with you about the "no split infinitives" rule (is "boldly to go" really better than "to boldly go"?), but I agree about other parts of the writing being more important than simple punctuation errors. I found this great grammar and style guide which clearly articulates a lot of things I agree with, one of them being that clarity and grace are the most important parts of writing.

However, the typos in this book are more than just incorrect punctuation or missing quotations marks; they impact understanding. "How at" could conceivably appear in a context that would make sense, but in this context it made me have to reread the sentence a few times and interrupted the flow in order for me to decide that what Walton really meant was "at how." These were particularly noticeable because they were concentrated towards the beginning of the book. If you only notice a typo near the end, then it seems more understandable, but once I saw those two I started expecting more to show up.

Do you really think ending sentences with "prepositions" or splitting infinitives is bad? (I put "preposition" in quotes because it is arguably not a preposition without an object to go with it, although you could argue for it being implied in the same way as "you" in an imperative sentence. Perhaps these issues only concern linguistic theory and don't matter in real life.) These are both devices we use all the time in spoken language; why should we write differently, especially if they cause our writing to be more awkward and less clear?