Waverly Hall: Relois, by Brian Melton

January 14, 2012 at 17:42 (Adventure, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Dystopia, Fantasy, Fiction, Mediocre Books) (, , , )

5/10

Brian Melton is a strong writer with some truly moving and poetic descriptive writing. He also seems to have difficulty in deciding what sort of story he wants to tell. The basic premise of Relois appears to be a mixed homage to C. S. Lewis, with an uncertainly sketched protagonist finding her way into one of the many worlds hypothesised in The Magician’s Nephew. Melton is strong when writing originally–the Hall where the story begins is exciting and fresh, and begs deeper investigation, for instance–but the crutch he uses in adapting existing works ends up hobbling him whenever it is given too much attention.

“‘I like you,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry you’re gonna die tonight.'”

-Waverly Hall: Relois

The story changes abruptly about a quarter of the way through, and Relois becomes a gentle dystopic adventure. While his pen flows as lyrically as before, the sudden change in subject and in feeling can only be disconcerting. In the second act, the reader is hurried from one location to the next without being given a great deal of time to absorb or have any real tactile encounter with the fantastical world. Obviously a slow and gentle exploration is not mandatory in a story, but given where Melton’s strengths and weaknesses lie it feels like an opportunity has been missed here.

The chief verdict when considering this book must be that Melton is an able writer who has not yet discovered how to plan a convincing or compelling plot. There are pacing problems and wooden portrayals around every corner, and he seems to distractedly flit from one character to another without really landing on whose story he is telling. A further frustration comes in Melton’s Christian message, which is laid out without much subtlety or care, and is an exasperating obfuscation that even a Christian reader will be constantly banging his shins against. These flawed asides are misconstrued, and are some of the lowest points of the book. Melton gives the impression that his book is an opportunity for a lecture rather than an invitation to a conversation.

It is important to be clear: Melton is not a Tolkien or a Dickens. He is not a Dosteovsky or a Rushdie, and he does not seem to want to be. He is writing a relatively simple children’s story, and judged by that criterion Relois has a degree of excitement in the right places, and is an interesting venture into a competently-written world. It aims at a certain mark, and it strikes near enough to satisfy. This book will probably not interest adult readers–particularly those adept enough to pick out Melton’s manifold and unwelcome “homages” to other works–but will be a pleasing (though not necessarily groundbreaking) diversion for younger readers.

And yes: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter is, at one point, mentioned.

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2 Comments

  1. J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

    David at the excellent Twilight’s Warden weblog also read this book and contributed a very thoughtful review that deserves notice. Particularly insightful are the following thoughts:

    I don’t like how Meg’s becoming soldier gets romanticized it as if this is some fun kids’ story. She essentially becomes a child-soldier, yet suffers little psychological trauma…These scenes are admittedly more fun than much of the rest of the story because they are faster paced [but] the sudden shift in tone to cheerful child-soldiering is too much a contrast.

    He also elaborates more than I did on the issue Melton has regarding choosing the story he is actually telling, and hits the nail quite on the head:

    Is it a dark, dystopic sci-fi story, or a Narnia-style young adult fantasy adventure? It’s got elements of both, but they never fuse comfortably. The cover hints at a gritty, serious tale, but most of the beginning and end is relatively light-hearted. And then the dystopia of Relois and Paucée is too grim and depressing for the video-game style shenanigans that ensue when Meg escapes in a sentient jet fighter whose personality is unsatisfyingly trite.

    Anyway: great review from a great human being.

    • David said,

      Thanks for those kind remarks, Stevenson. I think you have it right that younger readers may enjoy it well enough, but older ones will find themselves frustrated by the clumsily-constructed Christian message (a fine message, but needing more grace and nuance).

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