Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Foundling by DM Cornish

First published in 2006.

Growing up at Madam Opera’s Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls, Rossamund Bookchild–a boy with an unfortunate name–has led a life sheltered from the dangers of the world. But this all changes the day the man with the strange red-and-pale-blue eyes recruits him into the service of the Emperor. Rossamund has been drafted into the ranks of the Half-Continent’s “lamplighters”–soldiers who protect the empire’s roads from all evil.

Now Rossamund must begin the journey of his life, traveling the Half-Continent, a world full of people who can be as predatory as any monster he can imagine. And when he falls in with the mysterious and talented Europe, who can shoot electricity out of her body and call lightning down from the sky, learns that some people can be truly lethal . . . (book back flap)

Well that sounds interesting, doesn’t it? I certainly thought it did! And it's the best place to start because that blurb drew me in pretty quickly. Unfortunately that piece is a bit misleading. I don’t know about you but from reading that, I thought those would be adventures he’d be taking while working as a lamplighter. It certainly insinuates that, don’t you think?

But that would have to be a no. The whole book, all 311 (not including the 121 pages of reference) pages, is about Rossamund getting to the lamplighter office to report for his first duty. Him getting drafted is the catalyst that sets the ball rolling but once he sets out on his voyage, the whole lamplighter ploy doesn’t come back into play again until very close to the end. Him “traveling the Half-Continent” has nothing to do with the premise the flap employs, or more accurately takes a seat so far in the back its not even visible anymore.

Now it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if Rossamund wasn’t a simpering pussy for 3/4 of the book. He doesn’t have his own voice, he relies heavily on others to get him through to the end and between his departing the foundlingery and actually getting to the lamplighter place, not all that much happens plotwise. It’s all overrun by overburdening, worldbuilding info-dumps.

See, this whole book would have been, if I were writing it, something I would have cut and started on the last chapter which is where the story the bookflap was talking about actually starts. And Rossamund doesn’t really change all that much from the beginning to the end despite the fact that it was his first time really outside of the foundlingery. There’s a touch of toughness at the end but nothing that should have come from the experiences he had.

The entire book was a means for the author to expose readers to a very intricate world. I definitely give him credit. He spent something like 13 years developing this world, drawing maps and characters and creating all the little intricacies that I found while reading but I don’t think anyone told him that there is such a thing as too much worldbuilding. This is a prime example of that.

There were so many new and unusual terms that I found myself skimming a good portion of the time because I couldn’t keep everything straight. A lot of the terms were names for things that exist in the real world but it appears he didn’t want to keep names that people could actually recognize and relate to. One example that stands out in my head is bright-black leather. According to the glossary (did I mention there’s 121 pages of encyclopedia and appendices?) it’s patent leather. Nothing special about it. It doesn’t do anything that patent leather doesn’t do. It’s just a different name. Why? Would keeping the name patent leather been detrimental to the world? Would it have affected it that much?

The Turkey City Lexicon agrees with me on this one -

  • "Call a Rabbit a Smeerp"

    A cheap technique for false exoticism, in which common elements of the real world are re-named for a fantastic milieu without any real alteration in their basic nature or behavior. "Smeerps" are especially common in fantasy worlds, where people often ride exotic steeds that look and act just like horses. (Attributed to James Blish.)

I felt so disassociated from this book because I couldn’t keep the terms straight (and I’ll be damned if I’m constantly referencing a fictional glossary while reading for pleasure just to do so), because he went into more detail about the odds and ends of the world instead of creating some kind of plot and because Rossamund was a ninny! I couldn’t figure out just how old he was but I think it’s somewhere between 14 and 16 and you’d think a kid that’s been beaten on most of his life would have built up some resemblance to testicles but this kid really didn’t have them. He really was a wussy and the fact that he was such a pushover really turned me off from reading any more about him in the next book. I just don’t care if he grows into his own later down the info-dumped plotline. It was only a week in time story-wise but he went through high hell and came out relatively the same as he went in. Was he able to go through what he did without breaking down and curling up into a fetal position? Yes but he didn’t come out a stronger person for it. His persona within the last couple of chapters really wasn’t much different than the first couple and that really bothered me. A character is supposed to grow as the story carries on and Rossamund is in dire need of some extra strength milk.

Yes, there is a sequel; one that I know of. I don’t know how many more are planned or are actually out but I, for one, am not going to read them. Like I said, I give the author a ton of credit because this world really is just amazing and intricate and carries with it so much depth, not to mention the drawings are beautiful, but man, draw a line. Now I know how much worldbuilding is way too much. There was definitely a very sizable chunk of this book that could have been sacrificed for the sake of furthering the plot which was grossly lacking in comparison to the world’s backstory and bits and bobs.

The real story, the whole lamplighter quest that the bookflap boasts, starts at the end. Now I’m wishing I just skipped to the second book right off the bat because now I just don’t want to read it and it’s the story that that book contains that initially interested me. I feel had.

In terms of rating, this book is pretty unique. When it comes to plot, it's pretty lacking. There is one but it doesn't read like that's the emphasis. With characters, I actually liked Europe and her helper and even the scurvy captain that was embezzling cargo. But Rossamund I just didn't like and, unfortunately, he is the main character so that ends up being a pretty big mark against it all. However the world is just astounding. If this were another book and it didn't have this rich and lavish world, the bite rating would have been lower but I had to make a compromise. I would say read this story if you're looking for an extraordinary world but don't expect too much else beyond that since the rest has an overwhelming tendency to take a backseat to it.


Stormy said...

I actually bought this for a younger-cousin-type person, the blurb drew me in and it seemed like the kind of thing she'd be in to.

He spent something like 13 years developing this world, drawing maps and characters and creating all the little intricacies that I found while reading but I don’t think anyone told him that there is such a thing as too much worldbuilding.
This is a point I'd like to argue with you...there is no such thing as too much worldbuilding, just showing too much worldbuilding. :P I heard the phrase used once "no one wants to see your research" and I think it's very true - you, as the author, can know all of these little details, but adding them as subtleties is far more effective than...what basically accts to wanking over your own worldbuilding skills. I'm far more effective when I read a throwaway line that hints at something much deeper.

"Call a Rabbit a Smeerp"
The Turkey City Lexicon should be required reading for every writer. (And damn you, I'm gonna go waste my time reading it again, then lose a few hours on TVTropes...).

Donna said...

Ah, you've said it better than me! I agree, there isn't too much worldbuilding but relevance is a writer's best friend! That's how I felt about this book, that the whole things was 'look at how much work I did!"

Turkey City is awesome and it's never a waste! It should be mandatory to be read once every three months just to keep it fresh. LOL!

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