Sunday, February 01, 2009

The False House

By James Stoddard.

A lot like the first book (which I didn't review because I wasn't sure what to say about it) but better, I think. Both of these books concern a house called Evenmere, which somehow contains all of Creation: the Lamp-lighter keeps the lamps of the universe lit, the immortal Windkeep keeps time going, and the Master of the House defends it from the Society of Anarchists and others who would destroy it or its people.

Also, the Last Dinosaur (in pre-scientific times, he was called "Dragon") lives in exile in the Attic, truthful but vicious.

In both books, you know who's good and bad without much ambiguity. The first is fun to read as a pretty clean (though violent) adventure story, but the voice seems somehow detached from the internal lives of the characters. They have challenges, issues trusting each other, but the suspense never seems that high. The anarchists are mostly cookie-cutter soldiers and, despite claiming to want a better universe, are willing to murder millions of people to get there. On the good (plus dinosaur) side, the characters are more individual, with distinct speech patterns, but they all seem extremely competent.

The second book adds some elements of romance, but it is mostly perfunctory, along the lines of "He spent several weeks visiting her, and then asked her to marry him." And then he leaves her at home to worry. The sensibility is definitely that of an older time, although these books were published in 1998 and 2000.

What else can I say? Apparently these books are full of allusions to older fantasy; there's a web site with a catalog of references. Chant often quotes poetry, and the second book quotes Wuthering Heights numerous times, at the same time condemning it, "a book of unrequited love and dark despair." (At least, I assume it does from context.) And there are Christian themes: the House is said to have been built by God, there are numerous depictions of angels and at least one Biblical scene (in the second book), the characters discuss faith and hope, and so on; but there is still a lot of killing of anarchists.

In the end? Quite enjoyable. I have to join others in wondering why these aren't better known and why no more books by Stoddard have been released.

Also, remember that guy John C. Wright? He's said repeatedly in interviews that he takes ideas from other people, a comment I took as humorous. But The False House does contain a girl who can create secret passages at will...

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