Title: The Wretched of Muirwood
Author: Jeff Wheeler
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Length: 300 pages
Read: March 3-15, 2013
Summary: Great prose, characters, and setup
The first half of this novel was pure and unadulterated fantasy pleasure. The prose is very good. Descriptive but quick and lively. It’s pretty straight up third-person past, but it has a tinge of the poetic about it.
The story tightly follows Lia, an orphaned kitchen drudge living in an alternate Medieval Abbey. She’s a very lively personality and a lot of fun. There’s an interesting magical/religious system which is about halfway between “hard” and “soft” magic. I’m not going to get into the plot, per se, but this first half is basically of the “something new and strange comes into someone’s life” variety. This part is excellent.
About halfway through the book, this intrusion forces Lia to leave the Abbey and go on a quest. This occupies the second half of the novel and in the end the secret of her parentage is more or less revealed. There was nothing seriously wrong with this second half and I read it easily enough, but it somehow lacked the visceral grab that the setup did. Putting on my structural hat, I’d have to guess that the problem was one of drama and complication. There are complications, but they just sort of pop up and are resolved one way or another without a tremendous amount of agency from the protagonist. I’m excepting the final confrontation, which while abbreviated, did have said agency. This is all in contrast to the first half of the book where Lia is extremely proactive, even if it got her in trouble.
But there could be other factors. In the first half, she’s pretty sharp tongued, but this takes a back burner outside the Abbey.
I admit to sometimes having this “second act” myself, as it’s hard to both adhere to the plot target and simultaneously make the protagonist proactive rather than reactive. Still, it robbed Wretched of some drama. I felt less engaged.
There is also the possibility that it’s all me, as I seem to be having this problem in recent years where I enjoy the first act and not the second or third. Maybe I’m jaded. But this complaint aside, Wretched is still one of the better fantasies I’ve read in some time. It’s more personal (and shorter) than the traditional epic novel, but that seems to be a trend in this new e-book centric age.