Monday, December 07, 2009

100-Page Check-In: All the Windwracked Stars

All the Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear

I picked this up because it’s about a valkyrie. I put it down because it’s about a valkyrie who doesn’t really do anything for a hundred pages.

It starts off just after Ragnarok, or one of the Ragnaroks anyway, as it appears to be a repeating event. Muire is a valkyrie (Bear calls her a waelcyrge in the text, but the back cover of the book has the real scoop) who ran away from the battle and regained her courage too late. By the time she returns, she’s one of only two survivors and now she has to live with that. The other survivor is the two-headed, winged steed of another valkyrie. One of the animal’s necks is broken and the rest of it is about to die, but Muire is able to save it and it in turn saves her by refusing to let her kill herself.

Flash forward 2,300 years – these are immortal beings, by the way – and the end of the world wasn’t exactly the end of the world. But it’s ending again and only one city is left in it. See, this isn’t our world and these aren’t our valkyries. It’s an interesting world though and Bear does a nice job of filling it with fun elements like animal-people and cyborgs and a floating citadel from which the ruling technomancer watches over the slums below. But interesting worlds only go so far if interesting things don’t happen in them.

There’s a murder and Muire happens across the body in time to use her special power on it. As an agent of vengeance, she’s able to tell who killed the victim and swears to bring that person to justice. I guess murders aren't required to have an accompanying mystery, but they sure are a lot more intriguing that way. Instead of figuring out who did it though, what’s supposed to be compelling here is that the murderer is the Grey Wolf, another immortal who was somehow responsible for the previous Ragnarok. Now that he’s back, Muire is apparently going to have to stop him before he causes the end of the world again. If that last sentence sounds a bit silly to you, you understand part of my reason for putting this away.

But most of the reason is that I don’t really care about Muire. Her entire personality is based on her depression about her past failure. There’s some evidence by page 100 that there’s more to her than that, but not enough. I didn’t hate her or anything - I hope she’s able to get better - I just don’t want to spend any more time with her.

There is one character I kind of like, Selene the cat-woman who’s investigating the murder on behalf of the technomancer. Unfortunately, Bear spends too little time on her and since I already know the identity of the murderer anyway, that makes Selene’s story a lot less compelling. It would’ve been far more interesting to watch this unfold from Selene’s perspective, uncovering details as she did. Not as much pathos that way though, which seems to be what Bear was going for.

Final Grade: Since the 100-Page Rule is Pass/Fail, it gets a Fail. Back in the day I would’ve kept with it in hopes that it picked up. I was just starting to enjoy the world and relax about Muire towards the end there, but it never got “good.”

I’m taking a break from novels to catch up on some non-fiction after this. That doesn’t say as much about All the Windwracked Stars as it does about the general quality of the novels I’ve been reading lately, but hopefully things will improve when I jump back into fiction.

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