Sunday, March 25, 2012

Book Review: Earth Logic by Laurie J Marks

Earth Logic is the second book in the Elemental Logic series by Laurie J. Marks. A fantasy set in a peaceful country coping with an influx of invaders, it follows the main family of characters from the first book,  Fire Logic [reviewed here]. It's not quite as good as the first book, having too much telling, not enough showing, and stretching suspension of disbelief a bit too far for the sake of otherwise pointless events. It does introduce a strong new lesbian character and progress the story, bringing the war to the point of conclusion and positioning Karis to fully assume the role of G'deon.

You can read an overview of the societies, characters, sexual mores and magic here: The Elemental Logic Series by Laurie J. Marks. I recommend at least skimming it, as there's a lot that would take too long to repeat in each review.

The three couples from Fire Logic are happily set up as their own little farm family at the start of the book, five years on from the previous events. Norina's baby is a hyperactive and misbehaving child, running her fathers and mothers ragged. Karis is still lying low, waiting for the right time to act, leaving her and Zanja locked in an agonising holding pattern. Emil and Medric are the same as ever, lost in a world of books.

We meet two new characters. One is a runaway cook, passing as a Shaftalese civilian and trying to survive the stigma of being without a family, who serves mostly as a viewpoint on events, and is swept into Karil's family. And Lieutenant-General Clements, who is one of the main protagonists. Another lesbian character, she is a Sainnite, the second in command of the besieged invaders, under a general she loathes. While she's a loyal soldier and a Sainnite to the core, she's also a smart, capable woman who gradually comes to see the Sainnites have no future as they are, and slowly learns to comprehend the Shaftal way of life.

It wasn't quite as good as Fire Logic, getting far too bogged down in the personal relationships of the family (in the Shaftal meaning of the word - six people who live together and rely on each other, though the people themselves are unconventional by Shaftal standards).

The first part of the book follows the family life of our main family, which is nice to read if you are familiar with the characters, but probably quite boring if you  hadn't read the first book. Essentially, not much happens, we just get to see how they're all doing. And then plague emerges from where it had lain in wait, sending Karis and Norina's healer partner off on a mission to warn and educate populations, with Karis and Zanja finally chasing down the last remnants of the disease in the desert tribes of Karil's mother's people.

Medric chases down visions of books and a printing press, and writes his own subversive story of the Sainnites, sweeping his family up into spreading subverisve literature. The story retellls the Sainnite history and culture for the benefit of the Shaftalese. Thirty odd years, and still neither people knows much about the other, and this has a subtle but observable effect on the attitude of the readers.

Frustratingly, I found the tangled setup to creating the 'storyteller' character out of Zanja to be confusing, contradictory and pointless. Essentially, the three Fire Logics 'saw' that they had to kill Zanja to help her move out of her funk, and took this at face value. They actually set out to kill her in an unexplained ceremony, cuminating in Emil beating her and stabbing her, rather than killing her quickly. I actually thought that the whole point, after that bit, was just to set her up to be found by someone, but it turned out they really were trying to kill her. He was a soldier, he should know how to kill someone! Norina sabotaged their ritual, leaving Zanja with clues of her identity, though not Emil's assault, so logically, she should still have died. Instead, she split her personality, becoming an amnesiac storyteller with a flawed mind. The storyteller ends up trading stories with the Sainnites, and helping change the Lieutenant-General into someone able to treat with the Shaftalese.

 I could have ridden with the intuition and visions if it hadn't been discussed in such depth, revealing all the alternate ways they could have interpreted it, and if it hadn't dragged on and on for so much of the story. There was no real point to the Fire Logic characters finding out afterwards that it had gone differently (i.e. a metaphorical death rather than a literal one), rather than setting out to achieve that result from the start, and I felt Norina's sabotage to save the day was contrived. Probably because she hadn't had much to do, so was being shoehorned into the plot.

If she knew the Fire Logics took their intuition and visions too literally, and she saw that it should be different (though how she knew this for sure, I don't know, unless it was simply her own certainty that she was right) then how could pointing out an alternative interpretation have changed anything? We had to take it on faith that they 'had' to do it the way they did, and they never really explained why. It was too much telling, with no real insight into why they thought they had to kill Zanja, except that 'the cards say so' and  Medric  had a vision.. The same cards and visions that they normally argued over endlessly, finding multiple interpretations for. 'Just knowing' is not a good story device. And ultimately, I found Clements a strong enough character, with enough intelligence, empathy, and character development throughout the book, that the necessity of Zanja's role rang false. It was a great deal of effort to subvert a barracks and a person who were changing anyway.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book was the way the different threads and events and characters overlapped and affected each other, though it was also frustrating that there wasn't a 'main' plot for much of the book. Karis doesn't act directly until the end, when events have fallen out the right way, so the story feels quite directionless for much of the time. And yet this is part of the charm. The problem is that it's difficult to have it both ways, both following realistic events and gradual changes, and having your heroic characters saving the day. Having them be behind almost everything starts to stretch plausibility, and having the various plotlines seem to have a very minor effect seems pointless and contradicts the narrative logic of But A Main Character Did It So It Must Be Important, so I felt like I'd wasted my time reading some sections!

But if you enjoyed Fire Logic, then Earth Logic is worth picking up.

Earth Logic is currently not available as an ebook, but can be found on Amazon in dead tree format. 

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