Have you read this book?
J. C. Hall’s Lady of the Lakes… I’m not sure how to begin. There are many things to like about this book, but there are many things that indicate Hall has a way to go if her goal is any sort of commercial success.
As I read, I was somewhat reminded of Michael Moorcock’s works, specifically the Elric and Corum of the Silver Hand series. There’s a powerful, other-worldly feel to Lady of the Lakes, a sense of deep mystery and magic that we, as mortals, will never understand.
Jess is noble-born, charged with protect not just the world, but rather the worlds her magic talent allows her to visit. Lakes in Hall’s world aren’t just lakes, some are gates to other places. When Jess appeared from one lake a year past, young Corryn, a Sandman outcast, decided he would wait for her return. Return she does, but this time bearing her infant cousin Leothane. Yet she is ambushed by a dark priest, who, despite Corryn’s interference, defeats her and takes the infant.
Wounded, Jess is cared for by Corryn, who makes clear his intent that he wants to be her liege-man. But Jess’s path is dangerous and she must often go places no normal man can follow. In return for the debt of his help, she agrees that he might accompany her until the debt is repaid. Their journey pits them against fey creatures, dark priests, and treacherous princes.
Overall the characters are well realized and convincing. Corryn is not much more than a simpering sot, however, following Jess around like a love-struck lapdog. She’s his motivation for everything he does, and while it might be a realistic representation of a teenager with a crush, it gets old pretty quickly. Jess has several tasks to perform, and Corryn often ends up being an unwanted complication, even if he does manage to actually be of help a time or two. By the end, I got the sense that she regarded him with affection, but with the same sort of patronizing affection a teacher might have for a 6 year-old schoolboy with a crush. Jess is noble born, posses great magic power, kicks ass in combat, and is charged to complete great and dangerous tasks. Corryn is younger, hale and healthy, attractive, possesses magical talent of his own, and is completely and utterly devoted to the point were he won’t take no for an answer or go away, even when she pointedly tells him too. It’s every woman’s romantic fantasy.
The writing, in places, is the book’s greatest strength. It’s lyrical and powerful, mysterious and evocative at once. Hall can create dense and convincing atmosphere with only a few sentences. But….
The writing, in places, is also the book’s greatest weakness. In striving for the ‘fantasy feel’, Hall tries way too hard. She lapses into pseudo medieval prose that sounds stilted and unconvincing. This is most noticeable in dialog, where she overuses to the point of nausea constructions such as ‘mortal afraid’, ‘mortal weak’, ‘mortal angry’, etc. In fact, I would say mortal is her favorite word. In one page, she used it in conjunction with another word 8 times! Second favorite is the double adjective, such as ‘soft as soft’, ‘hard as hard’, ‘sharp as sharp’, etc. The whole book is stuffed with these two constructions, to the point of eliciting groans every time I read another one. Combine that with her penchant for making nobles talk in third person when they speak to characters who aren’t noble (“One is angry with you.”, “One does not answer such questions.”, “One owes you a debt.”) and you have some truly painful, wince-inducing stuff. Hall needs an editor to help her clean it all up.
The final verdict? It’s a tough call. I enjoyed the book. It’s got a well developed world and mythos and interesting and original characters. Sometimes I felt a bit lost as to what was going on; there’s a lot of intrigue here however, and that might be more the fault of the reader than the author. But the writing…. in places it sings, but in others it croaks. When I hit that eighth ‘mortal xxxxx” on the same page, I actually thought “Oh my goodness, she used it again!”
Keep writing, Ms. Hall, but I suggest you take the tact of so many other successful authors such as Martin and Jordan and forego the attempt at mimicking medieval prose and speech. Stop writing the writing, and just write the story.