Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Return to Nitpickery: King's Man and Thief

Hey y'all.  So this blog sees the return of Christie Golden, author of the Dark Templar trilogy.  In my new series Return to Nitpickery, we'll be going over the original fiction of authors to compare it to the work they did when creating their entry/ies in the Starcraft official novel franchise.  It feels unfair to judge a writer based on work they did for a franchise they don't have the right to properly control. It's not their characters, not their plot, and their creativity is instantly limited, particularly if Blizzard had specific things they wanted to accomplish with the book.

So the first book up will be Christie Golden's King's Man & Thief.

I had to use this picture because it's the only one bigger than a stamp.

You'll note, however, that in my update blog I had mentioned William C. Dietz instead.  It turns out that the book I'd brought home from work, By Blood Alone, is book three in a nine part series.  I just wanted to do a quick assessment of the Starcraft official novel writers, and that's easier done with a stand alone book or the first book of a series.  That way any details in the book have to be established then and there.

Strangely enough, By Blood Alone didn't have any indicator that it was in a series.  It didn't have a number on the side, or a "Legion of the Damned" subtitle, or even the word "series" anywhere on the cover.  In any case, I went to get another of Dietz's books (note that I work in a used bookstore), but they all turned out to be sequels.  Not that I'm terribly upset about it.  I read the beginning of By Blood Alone while I was on the bus, and it really felt like being dropped into a plot.  It's not that the action happened too quickly, it's that tons of characters get crowded in before we can get any emotional attachments to them.  That, and the narrative is boring.

Great cover, though.

But this blog is about Christie Golden.  She's the writer of the Dark Templar Trilogy.  Looking back at what I wrote for those reviews, it appears that most of my problems with those books were things that Christie couldn't possibly control.  The suggestion that the Protoss were once caveman-like beings that get excited about drawing in the dirt would never fly if a non-involved author had brought it to the table.

There were lots of these sorts of issues in the Dark Templar trilogy: Valerian's interactions with his father, the narcotic sundrop effectively turning Protoss into Dark Templar, cheap usage of Kerrigan and Ulrezaj, references to Shadow of the Xel'Naga, etc.  All of these are concept issues that hinge on what Blizzard wanted to establish with this book, and Christie couldn't make the big decisions in these areas.  They weren't her characters.  Unless of course Blizzard gave her incredible leeway, which would be ridiculous on the part of the people who made the Starcraft books canon.

Not that I'm blaming all of this on Blizzard.  Golden's writing style was lacking, and she had the horrible habit of describing her characters with "she was the kind of person that..." sentences instead of actually showing the characteristics Golden intended to convey.  I found that it was easy to misunderstand what was going on if I didn't read very carefully.

Well, for this book, I didn't want to read carefully.  Granted, this book had somewhat better narrative, in the sense that it wasn't as confusing as it was in the Dark Templar trilogy.  It still wasn't good, however.

Nitpickery is spoilers, but don't worry about it.  This book is awful.

Okay, so a quick story summary.  Deveren is a man who lost his wife and unborn child during a break-in robbery, and ends up becoming a thief himself in order to track down the killer.  Flash forward years later, and during an incident at a tavern, the crime leader of the local thieves is killed. Deveren is elected in his place, much to the dismay of female thief Marrika and competitor Freylis.

This is where the summary gets hard.  Not only does the plot stray every which direction, nothing at the beginning of the book builds up to the end.  Uh, let's see if I can collect all the storylines.

- Marrika is a robber from the land of Mahr, and she is the lover of Pedric, another guy in Deveren's crime ring.  Since women aren't allowed to lead the crime ring, Marrika urges Pedric to nominate himself.  Pedric puts only mediocre effort into this, and loses.  Once the election is over, Pedric sees Marrika's power-mongering for what it is and dumps her.  Marrika then seduces the other competitor for the crime ring's leadership, a goon named Freylis, and sleeps with him to get him to do what she wants.

Apparently what she wants is to sacrifice a victim to one of the local deities, Vengeance, so that he'll grant her power.  She sacrifices Pedric's new love, a girl named Lorinda.  She then claims leadership over the thieves she can pull away from Deveren's influence and attempts to conquer the land of Braedon.

- Bhakir, an evil advisor to the now dead king of Mahl, prevents Prince Castyll from taking his rightful place on the throne.  He then imprisons the boy and forces him to cut off his engagement with the princess of Braedon (the kingdom where Deveren lives).  Castyll uses his night with the "Blesser of Love" to escape from Bhakir's clutches.  But in the meantime Bhakir created a giant, cursed rat to spread fear and cause pain to anyone who tries to do good.  He sends this rat to Marrika, who lets it attack and infect anyone in Braedon that comes into contact with it and its fleas.

- All of this culminates into a scene where Deveren, the Blesser of Health, and anyone who can help must cure all infected people with either medicine or their own healing powers.  Lots of divine intervention later, and everything turns up more or less alright.

Okay, so let's make something clear about this book.  This is schlock fantasy.  It isn't quality, uncommon, or special in any way.  It's a modern form of fantasy, promoted primarily by female writers for female audiences, that attaches magical elements to emotional issues.  Modern fantasy churns stuff like this out by the bucketload, and is a symptom of the state fantasy has found itself in. Granted, in a world where there are many opportunities to publish, there's bound to be churned out schlock, in every single genre that exists.  This is just the female, fantasy version.

Christie Golden's female fantasy is not about world building or deep characters, or any of the usual conventions of magical fantasy worlds.  It's all about a dark sinister plot with lots of female victims of disgusting brutality.  A woman is tortured and knifed to death.  Another is tortured and threatened with having her breasts sliced up.  She later kills herself.  A young girl, having survived being on a ship full of people quarantined due to a plague until they all die, is bitten by the magical rat I mentioned earlier and subjected to torment where she only gets pleasure from doing evil.  Even when Deveren is exposed to a medicine that will inoculate him to the magic curse, he has a momentary mental breakdown and attacks the female Blesser of Health.  Even Marrika, a woman who ends up very powerful, has to ("has to") sleep with Freylis, a disgusting, unhygenic oaf who doesn't dump out his own chamberpots very often.

A disturbing fact about women that is often shoved under the rug is that female audiences often find victimhood interesting to read about.  Heck, author V.C. Andrews (and her ghostwriters) has based her entire career on the plight of females in horrible situations.  But women eat up this kind of thing, as more evidently shown by the entire romance novel genre, or by urban novels.  Much time is spent on how a woman has suffered, but usually very little on her subsequent recovery or victory, assuming she does recover.  It's one reason that I can't take feminists seriously -- they don't seem to understand that we are just as messed up as men are.  Victimhood in fiction (as well as the damsel in distress stereotype) are not male in origin, and it's nonsense to blame them for stuff the female audience likes to read about.

So, in short, this is typical female fantasy slush.  There's an audience for this stuff, so it keeps getting printed. Yeah, this is the reason why I rarely read books directed toward females.  And when I do, it's usually nonfiction.

The sad thing is, the victimhood is the only notable thing about this book at all.  Well, I don't know, the deity system was interesting.  They have a number of gods: Death, Vengeance, Light, Love, Health, Hope/Despair....I think I forgot one, but I don't care enough to look it up again.  It was cool that these deities existed, and naming the days of the week after them was also a good idea.  As was not giving them fantasy names.  The concepts are strong enough without filtering them through a layer of made up monikers.

That's the only real good thing I have to say about this book.  Well, there was a moment where Deveren was cutting through a window with a jewel, and since it was dark, Golden chose to describe the jewel by using feel instead of sight.  Deveren guesses one particular ring he has stolen is a diamond because it's sticking out rather than embedded within the ring it's in.  A jeweler will know how accurate that kind of ring design is, but we can at least assume it's true for this particular world.

Okay, compliments over.

So the beginning of the book was actually kind of okay.  It starts with Deveren as a simple lord and patron of the arts, and he's having a loving conversation with his beautiful, pregnant wife.  She's trying to convince him to go watch the show he's supported, but Deveren doesn't want to go.  Of course, I'm thinking while reading this entire section that he is going to go, and she is going to die. And that's exactly what happened.  Obvious, yes, but it's a good a way as any of getting the plot started.  Then for some reason the plot skips ahead several years, without describing how Deveren attempted to legally avenge his wife, or how/why he joined the thieves. Sure, there's a paragraph or two of explanation, but this is the sort of interesting thing that probably should be in the book rather than explained away.

There are three primary faults in this book, faults that encompass the entire work.  The first is that the plot isn't very unique.  You've got a guy out for revenge, a prince stopping his father's killer, and a thief woman trying to rule a city.  Nothing really exciting there.  But that's actually okay.  A plot can be conventional and still work, as a mediocre plot can be made up for with great characters or a detailed world.  The reason it's a downside here is because neither the world or characters are picking up the slack.

This is because of the second flaw: neither the characters nor world get much in the way of development.  The world feels more or less like a medieval set of two towns, with some deity worship, a dash of magic, and a mention or two of two races, mer-creatures and elves.  Elves are mentioned, but never appear, and there's only one mer-creature there, Darshirin.

Darshirin is a convenience character.  He finds a dead body, sends messages, and sends sea creatures to help the land people.  He has no personality, no plot, and simply exists to do what it takes to move the plot along.  Another such character is Freylis, who is just your typical ugly oaf, because ugly on the outside always means ugly on the inside, right?  In any case, he's just there to make Marrika powerful. Beyond attempting to become the leader of the thieves at the beginning of the book, he does nothing of his own initiative.  If he were really as violent as he was portrayed in the beginning, he probably would have attempted to beat Marrika into submission already.

Likewise, the characters Vandaris and Pedric are just there to be supporting casts for female victim #2, Lorinda.  Vandaris is her father, and Pedric is her love, and both of them near about vanish from the plot once Lorinda is kidnapped.  Neither of them do anything interesting. Domir, Deveren's close friend, does some mind-magic to save Castyll, but other than that just says some lines.  Two evil characters who Bhakir is using to gain control of Mhar are mentioned more than they actually appear. All these characters are weak and boring, and nothing about them inspires much in the way of sympathy or hate, as appropriate.

The third problem is that everything that happens -- everything -- is explained by exposition dump. Deveren's conversion to a thief, Allika the thief girl's background, Marrika's backstory, Castyll's plans to escape Bhakir, Bhakir's reveal of being evil, Domir's plans of sending messages to Castyll's loyalists, the killing of the cursed rat, etc.

Now, you'd think that if a writer created a massive, magical rat that made people happy when they did evil and feel pain when they did good, then this rat would be the major focus of climactic parts of the book.  This starts well, as Allika is the first victim of the creature's bite.  Then, all of a sudden, some pages later, we hear that Deveren has had the rat killed.  What?  Aren't we doing to see it wreck havoc on the city?  Watch as characters succumb to the rat's curse?  Witness the dramatic and terrifying fight to destroy the beast?  Nope!  Let's just finish it off and be done with it!

This really speaks to Christie's lack of awareness of emotional control.  She's using extreme methods like torture and murder to try and drum up interest, but the thing about it is, many books have been published that make even mundane events far more interesting than violence.  If something is written well and takes into account how the audience will feel when they read something, then even throwing plastic bottles at a tree can be an intense moment.  Heck, Azumanga Daioh, a manga about regular high school girls, is many times more interesting than this, and it has no murder or torture at all.

As it is, I have to repeat a statement I made in the Dark Templar trilogy blogs: this is the biggest violation of "show, don't tell" I have ever seen.  This book, that is.  Not even the Dark Templar trilogy is this bad in that regard.

The romance in this book isn't great either.  Female victim #2 has more or less same story as Deveren's wife, female victim #1.  So Vandaris' daughter Lorinda has worked as a Tender to the Blesser of Love (more on that soon), and has now returned home after her tenure.  She suddenly meets newly single Pedric, who is instantly smitten with her.  After a failed attempt to strike up a conversation on her background (that is, they have an exposition dump about the goddess Love's service), Pedric finally gets her to date him.  And by "finally" I mean eleven pages.  No really, they go from strangers on page 57 to serious dating on page 68.  And that's including a six page interruption of Deveren stuff.

Don't you think that maybe the reader would like to enjoy the relationship?  Maybe feel all swoony like Lorinda, or all debonair like Pedric, as the couple realize the deepness of their love for each other?  Clearly Golden didn't, as the two are engaged by page 110.  And page 111 has Pedric knocked out while Lorinda is kidnapped.  Lorinda's dead by page 135.

What makes it worse is that Lorinda was horribly murdered as an attempt by Marrika to please the deity Vengeance, and not to mention revenge on Pedric for dumping her.  Lorinda is strapped down to an altar and cut by all thieves that Marrika has swayed into following her, then Marrika offers the killing blow.  The priest of the temple uses his telepathic power to allow Marrika to feel Lorinda's last thoughts.  Does this affect Marrika's actions?  Reflect a certain theme the book is trying to tell?  No, it's just another way for this book to demonstrate its torture porn.  And then we get to see as Darshirin finds Lorinda's bloated, disgusting body in the river.

Again, the nature of victimhood in stories.  Any pleasure or happiness is truncated, and any darkness is emphasized and drawn out.  Not to mention usually having nothing to do with any over-arcing theme.

The whole concept of the Blesser of Love is messed up, while we're at it.  Okay, so each of the deities I mentioned before has a "Blesser", or someone who is the primary priest/ess of their particular god. The Blesser of Love is a professional slut.  Essentially, she sleeps with men to "teach them the ways of love."  Given that Love as a deity has been portrayed as a naked little girl petting a deer, I'm not sure that matches the concept all that well.

Yeah, to add to the demented culture, eight year old girls are selected to be the Tenders of the Blesser of Love.  Basically her servants.  And when the girls turn twenty, they either replace the Blesser or go home.  Apparently this causes guys to assume the former Tenders are loose.  Note that the Blesser of Love is not shown to have any more than sexual duties, so it's all victimhood, rather than genuine religious servitude of some kind.

What makes the whole thing a farce is that it doesn't take any experience to be a Blesser.  While it's good that Tenders aren't subjected to ceremonial idolization of sexual slavery, the Blesser is chosen from one of them, and is therefore a virgin upon getting her "title."  Thus, what exactly has she to teach anyone?  While it's demonstrated that other Blessers of their deities have powers, nothing the Blesser of Love has is shown to come from their perverse immortal.  She's just some twenty year old girl with no experience, no freedom, and many years ahead of sleeping around with people who don't love her.

Ugh, this only gets more and more disgusting.  Making it even worse, a new Blesser is presented in the plot, and Castyll is given the first night with her, because he's king in name, even as Bhakir is trying to take the throne.  Castyll intends to use it as a way to be out of Bhakir's sight for a night and thus escape.

Now, it's been mentioned before this point that Castyll is in love with the princess of Braedon, and he very much wants to marry her.  I know that men can sleep with a woman and care nothing for her, but it's disgusting that Castyll isn't even slightly guilty about sleeping with the Blesser.  He even has the gall to mention that he's even more in love with his princess afterwards, and that he and his future wife will thank her later.

Keep in mind that the Blesser's lack of experience means that she taught him nothing.  Nor am I inclined to think that any woman would willingly thank a former lover of her husband.  At least the lack of experience means that Castyll probably won't spread an STD to the princess.

Actually, it might help if the princess ever showed up in the plot.  Eh, nah, there's too much going on in this story anyway.  In any case most of the plot of King's Man and thief takes place in Braedon, but Mhar is where Castyll is "fighting" for his throne against usurper Bhakir.  Right off the bat the story's tension is destroyed by immediately revealing not only that Bhakir is evil, but exactly how he killed Castyll's father. Don't you think it would be better if Bhakir's menace were hidden for a while, and then revealed in shocking ways?

Whatever.  Not only is it immediately revealed to the reader that Bhakir is evil, but anyone in Mhar themselves should have known something was wrong right away -- Bhakir doesn't allow Castyll to have a coronation.  As much as the man won't want the king's true heir to ascend to the throne, he should at least pretend to be a good servant for a while, and then make plans behind Castyll's back. Or kill both the king and his son at the same time.  But because Bhakir is stupid, his moves to take the throne are obvious, particularly by pardoning evil men who will then serve him.  Man, that's stupid, but I guess since no one's smart enough to protest, he gets away with it.

To be fair, Castyll is stupid too.  And mostly boring.  He exchanges a few secret messages with the healer Jemma, gives one speech, and then spends the rest of his time until the night with the Blesser just locked away.

Page 40 describes him this way: "Castyll had been taught a healthy respect for weapons and was not about to force a confrontation."  This is not medieval thought.  This is modern thinking, modern fear of weaponry and pain.  For one thing, to defend oneself, one must accept possible injury and death without fear.  It's that lack of self concern, ironically enough, that will save a potential victim from whatever the attacker wants to do with them.  For another, Castyll's a dang prince.  If nobody's taught him to fight by then, then he's been raised in the most slack kingdom of all time.  No wonder idiots can take it over.

From Castyll's escape onwards, the plot in Mhar is too boring for words.  Since none of the characters are interesting, and Castyll never makes interesting choices, there's no stake in the outcome of this conflict.  The reader is given no opportunity to feel anything.  Castyll is saved by Deveren's close friend Damir, and then immediately confronts Bhakir.  The only reason this works is that Vengeance is angry that innocent Lorinda was killed in his name, and he decides to give power to Castyll to defeat Bhakir.  The only connection Bhakir has to Lorinda's death is that he's allied with Marrika, and he sent the magic rat to use against Braedon.  In all likelihood, Bhakir never knew Lorinda ever existed.  But Vengeance does what he wants, I guess.

Oh, it's also mentioned at this point that Bhakir's navy was already sent to Braedon to attack it.  This invasion is brought up and solved on one page, where Castyll's loyalists and Darshirin's animal buddies are destroying this navy in the harbor.  Yeah, because that's an interesting plot point worth mentioning.

While we're at it, Marrika's not particularly smart either.  It's been established that Marrika was from Mhar originally, but she came in on a ship and seduced Pedric so that she could join his thieves guild. It's not said how long she was in the guild before attempting to force Pedric into becoming leader, but really, if she was messing around with him, Marrika should already have an assessment of Pedric's leadership abilities.  Why would she bother trying to get him to lead the thieves?

But whatever.  He dumps her and she decides to mess with Freylis.  Man who doesn't empty chamberpots or clean house.  Man who lives above a candle shop.  So...what about his man makes him a good thief leader?  Sure, Freylis is big, surly, and violent, but thieves (the kind described in this book, in any case) need to be either stealthy and patient, or charming and patient so as to better trick people.  Nothing about Freylis indicates he has the abilities necessary to fulfill the job of an ordinary thief, much less lead anyone.  At best he'd be a common thug.

But no, the crafty, determined woman "has to" sleep with a dirty, unkempt man.  Surely leading him on would be enough to get him to do what she wants.  Really, Marrika didn't need someone who was trying to lead the thieves.  She just needed muscle to help kidnap Lorinda.

So Marrika has an alliance with Bhakir...for some reason.  I guess there can't be two enemies in a book without them having something to do with each other.  Thing is, Bhakir needed to secure Mhar before attempting to get Braedon (if he were smart), and it's pretty quick for Marrika to go from a nobody thief to ruler of Braedon, which she has her eyes set on.  But she releases the cursed rat from Bhakir into town, expecting it to destroy everything.

Uh...how will that help her?  At best, she'll destroy everyone.  There will be no one left to rule. Given that Marrika isn't capable of controlling the rat or its fleas, there's no way she can make it go where she wants, or prevent herself from getting the sickness.  She claims at one point that her and her followers are all immune to the effects of the curse because they're already people who take pleasure from evil, but that seems artificial.  What proof does Marrika have that this is the case?

That, and she severely miscalculates what Vengeance wants from her.  Now, it would make sense if Marrika didn't believe in the deities at all, and was simply using the idea of Vengeance as a god to manipulate people who did believe into following her.  Then she could be surprised when it turned out she was wrong.  However, any materialist beliefs on Marrika's part are not emphasized.  She genuinely seems to think Vengeance will want her to kill an innocent girl because her boyfriend found a new love.  That's pretty stupid, especially near the end of the book, when the priest of Vengeance realizes that they've been caught.  If he's been serving Vengeance for however long, wouldn't he know more or less how Vengeance acts, and what he expects from his followers?

Eh, the real nail in the coffin for Marrika's character is how she's revealed as the one who killed Deveren's wife.  This is just so cheap.  It's a convenient way for Deveren's enemy to be there so that he can finally avenge his wife.  After it's revealed, Marrika is killed, and there is no emotional payoff for the reader.  The plot more or less dumped Deveren's wife's killer in his lap and allowed him to kill her, completely conveniently.

It's weird, though.  The book claims that Marrika had been a young and inexperienced robber when she killed Deveren's wife (she didn't want to leave a witness when robbing their house), and yet Marrika somehow knows that the woman was Deveren's spouse.  When did she find that out?

You'll notice that though I've been going on and on, I haven't said much at this point about Deveren himself.  That's because, despite the fact he's supposed to be the main character, everyone else has more interesting stuff to do than him. The reader spends so much time with other people that Deveren's story is more or less forgotten.  For the beginning of the story, it's all good, as Deveren is there and the story more or less follows along with him.  But once he wins the election of the thieves, he's suddenly unimportant.  He doesn't do much in the way of leading -- I think he gives a speech once.  Heck, he barely does any thieving.

Apparently to gain the leadership of the thieves, Deveren must steal three objects.  He does this in the first one hundred pages, but nothing comes of it.  Deveren doesn't get the thieves to steal something big, and none of the three objects Deveren needs help him do anything in the future.

So what does Deveren do?  He apparently has people kill the curse rat, but since that's not up front, it doesn't matter.  He talks a bunch.  He takes care of Allika.  He creates a diversion so that nobody suspects his friend Damir is helping Castyll.  He doesn't do anything much of relevance until goddess Health decides to grant him power, and he goes around and heals people of the curse.  Avenges his wife.  Meets her ghost.  Adopts Allika.  These would be more exciting if they weren't simply mentioned, and if any of these things had some form of emotional impact.

Simply put, Deveren doesn't do enough, isn't there enough, and adds nothing to the plot. He should have been removed from the plot completely.  He added that little.  Instead of Pedric being just about forgotten for the second half of the book, he should been the protagonist. Instead of Deveren's wife's murder at the beginning, Pedric's romance with Lorinda could be extended, and he'd already be a thief instead of becoming one later.  There would be no mention of any kind of election, and Marrika's motives of jealousy and conquest would be enough for Lorinda's death to make sense. Then Pedric could work for Health.

Sheesh, you know a book is crap when getting rid of the protagonist would improve it.  That's right. This book is crap.  As further evidence, here's some writing errors I found.

- On page 28, Damir and Deveren are having a conversation.  Damir is speaking, and there's a separate paragraph of his dialogue.  I'm sorry for not getting the full quote, but I've already returned the book and don't feel like getting it again.  My point is simple, though.

"When you have a paragraph that begins with dialogue," she said, cracking her fingers as she spoke. "And then interrupts itself with a 'he said' bit, only describe the physical actions of the person speaking."

As in, if a character is speaking, only include the action of the speaker if this action is interrupting a line.  If the person the character is speaking to reacts, then finish the speaker's line before describing the listener's actions.  That way your reader isn't confused as to who's saying what or doing what. That is, don't do something like this --

"After that, I just had to summon space cow assassin." Bethany said.  But Statkus scoffed at her and rolled his eyes.  "I mean, in these times, don't you have to send in the cows?"

It's fine to wait until character A is done speaking before character B shows how nonsensical it is that something like a "space cow assassin" exists.

- On page 36, "Marrika realized with a jolt that it really didn't matter to Pedric if she stayed or left."

Given that the reader to this point had already been shown Pedric's thoughts and seen Pedric's abrupt exit, telling the reader straight out what Pedric is doing is narratively pointless.  Show Pedric leaving, and show Marrika reacting.  Don't state directly what Pedric is thinking, because Marrika isn't a telepath.

- There's too many references to winter as a metaphor for something happening.  Lorinda's personality, Vengeance's shrine, and other things are described as being cold and wintery.  There's three or four references to winter this way by page 81.  Surely there are other ways to describe the cold, or perhaps other metaphors for horror besides lower temperatures.

- "Pedric was young, and the blood in his veins sang sweet and hot, and Damir was not so old as to have forgotten what that song did to one's judgement."

Not only is this a really stiff sentence, but "blood in his veins" is an extremely common cliche. Anything "in his veins" is overused, and not particularly imaginative.

- Page 102, "Scritch, scrape. Unaware that he did so, Deveren gnawed his lower lip."

Since I'm pretty sure his lip isn't making that sound, it would be better if the sound of lock picking went with the statement that Deveren is picking a lock.

- In the book, Golden mentions that the natives of Braedon use pine soap to disguise their scent from deer while hunting.  She also mentions that pine trees don't grow on the harbor, and any pine that comes through is imported.  Thus, pine soap will be useless beyond its introduction in Braedon, as deer (and anyone a thief would want to sneak up on), would learn to associate the scent of pine with danger.

- And finally, the incident that started everything, the attack on the Whale's Tail tavern, is never referenced again or explained.  Unless I accidentally skipped over that part in my bored daze throughout the final pages of this book.  Given that that's what got Deveren his role as leader, the idea that it's explained away in a couple of sentences is almost worse.

...Okay, so I just looked it up on Amazon, and it looks like King's Man and Thief is also part of a...duology? A two set story?  Well, given that the first book is about some woman, I'm willing to bet that it has nothing to do with this one, so I'm not going to try again with another Christie Golden book.  That, and the fact Amazon up and calls it a "duology" means this book is crappy enough not to fill out a real trilogy.

Look, this book is pure schlock crap.  When a misleading trilogy with insultingly shallow Protoss lore beats this, you have to wonder why a bunch of video game programmers are better writers than a published author.  The Dark Templar trilogy is a waste of time, but it's miles ahead of King's Man and Thief.

I know, I know.  This may be just one bad book, and Christie Golden's other stuff could be better. Am I going to read another of her books, risking exposure to another cheap torture porn?  Nope. Barring some special event or a mention or two in other Starcraft author posts, Golden is officially never appearing again on this blog.

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