Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Earth Magic

Book Review: 'Earth Magic' by Alexei and Cory Panshin

1 / 5 Stars

'Earth Magic' (275 pp.) was published by Ace Books in October, 1978. The cover artwork is by Boris Vallejo.

The novel takes place in a standard-issue medieval fantasy kingdom, where the teenaged Haldane is the only son of the King of the Tribe of the Gets, and the Ruler of the Land of Nestor: Black Morca. Black Morca is not the brightest of individuals – indeed, every Get is quite stupid– but his strength and brute cunning have allowed him to enlarge the boundaries of his kingdom.

As ‘Earth’ opens, Black Morca has made an alliance with Lothar of Chastain, who arrives at Morca’s castle with his daughter, Princess Marthe, who is engaged to Haldane. The alliance is one of convenience for Black Morca, as it will enable him to focus his efforts on the conquest of adjoining lands. Neither Haldane nor Marthe are particularly enthused over their nuptials, but Haldane sees it as one small way to become closer to his indifferent, preoccupied father.

However, even as the wedding celebration takes place, discord flares. Alliances are undone, and Haldane must flee for his life from the castle of Black Morca, accompanied by the court wizard, Oliver. Overnight, Haldane goes from being the heir to the kingdom, to a hunted outcast sneaking furtively through the woodlands. 

Haldane’s sole hope for survival is to escape the boundaries of Nestor and travel to his grandfather’s kingdom of Angrim. But Haldane discovers that he must deal with another, supernatural party as he struggles to avoid capture: the Earth Goddess Libera has marked him for purposes of her own……

Like his previous novel, ‘Rite of Passage’, ‘Earth Magic’ is another novel by author Panshin (here assisted by his wife, Cory) that focuses on an adolescent’s journey to adulthood. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but ‘Earth’ is one of the worst fantasy novels I’ve ever read.

The prose style of ‘Earth Magic’ is stridently wooden and stilted, veering within the same page between a faux-‘Old Legende’ phrasing devoid of contractions and colloquialisms; to figurative phrases reminiscent of the more cumbersome types of New Wave sf writing. 

For example, when Ivor is knocked out, he simply isn’t knocked out; no, rather: Ivor went wandering in night realms.

Still other segments of the narrative clumsily mix clichéd, empty phrasing and awkward syntax:

He had let himself forget that narrow practice was his failing and practiced narrowly. He had lost himself in study, lost himself in thought and question, paused for a moment in dream while he wondered where his youth had flown and wither he was bound. To what end had he been born ? And while he was occupied so in reverie, he had lost his balance.

Oliver had tricked Oliver and received a blow from Oliver that had set Oliver down. Where was order ? His world was broken. His mind ran on its own heels in subtle circles.

The novel’s writing reaches a nadir in the last chapter, where a climactic confrontation between Haldane and his enemies is made tedious and numbing by the determined use of portentous, self-consciously ‘heroic’ prose. 

My opinion: ‘Earth Magic’ is a novel to avoid.


MPorcius said...

Ouch! I read Rite of Passage twice, and liked it both times.

Anonymous said...

I know I'm late to the party here. I read Earth Magic long ago and it always stuck with me because I thought it was so awful. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one.