Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Going Down by Ann Somerville

TITLE: Going Down
AUTHOR: Ann Somerville
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 30k)
GENRE: Gay fantasy
COST: $1.99

Empath Einan suffers from trauma incurred during his time as a medic. Drowning in emotions he can’t contain, he struggles to find a way to cope. His insomnia sends him out on nightly walks, and it’s there that he first runs into Thalem. Thalem is laden with his own guilt, emotions so strong that they nearly incapacitate Einan the first time he really encounters them. Together, though, they might be able to help each other…

Though this story is just shy of 30k, it took several sittings for me to finish. It is not an easy read, either in voice or in subject matter. The author’s prose is dense, her characters broken, and its tone somber and unforgiving. There is no hiding away from the misery, or the stark lives her characters have. You don’t read this story expecting a whimsical escape. If you do, you’ll be sorely upset.

As this is the first of this author’s stories that I’ve read, I don’t know if this is her normal voice or one she used for the purposes of this story. I suspect the former. The story takes place in a universe common to much of her work, a world where ordinary people have extraordinary mental capabilities. There are empaths, telepaths, those who can control fire, those with telekinesis. Though the story is meant to stand alone, I suspect some readers will have the same difficulty I did – fully understanding the world she has created. It has its own vocabulary, its own geography, its own socio-political structure. Yet, none of this gets explained very well at all. The beginning starts with Einan in the throes of a bad reaction to someone else’s emotions, and the author plunges the reader headfirst into Einan’s inner world. I spent the first third of the story just getting a grip on the society and world the author created. While I struggled to feel comfortable with it, I found it very hard to develop any feelings, good or bad, for any of the characters in that time period. I was only able to do so once I’d stopped questioning every other word. In the end, I think that hindered my overall enjoyment of the story.

Though it's not high fantasy, in many ways it feels like it, which is probably another reason I didn’t engage with it as much as other readers might. High fantasy just isn't one of the genres I typically enjoy. But the tone of the story, the gravity, the invented language…all of it gave the story that sort of feel. I did eventually get involved in Einan and Thalem’s struggles to rebuild their lives, but not until well over halfway through the story. I also never bought their relationship as anything more than friendship. There are hints that it changes and deepens for them emotionally in the last quarter of the story, but this is incredibly subtle and very much not the point of the book.

Let’s be clear. This is not a romance. This is the drama of two men, fighting against their own oppressive guilt and emotions. I can’t say that it worked to the best degree for me, but I’m certain there are others out there for whom it will succeed.

All proceeds of the sale of this book go to Medecins sans Frontieres.


7/10 – Dense, dense prose and an alternate world that gets very little explanation makes it difficult to engage in the first third of the story. Stick it out and it gets a lot better.

Hero #1

8/10 – Einan is damaged and lovely, though it takes a good portion of the story to really get a feel for him.

Hero #2

7/10 – In spite of Einan’s abilities, I never thought he was as realistic as the lead.

Entertainment value

6/10 – My struggle to understand the world in the story made it difficult to connect with the characters until much later in the story.

World building

5/10 – The author introduces a lot of terminology without explanation very early in the story, and it takes a long time for someone unfamiliar with the world or fantasy to come to grips with it.




Logophilos said...

Thanks for the thoughtful review. Sorry it wasn't your cup of tea.

Book Utopia Mom said...

Oh, please don't apologize. I'm not sorry I read it at all. Once I got past my world-building issues and could engage with the characters, I did enjoy it.

It's a meaningful story, deserving of an audience. And I sincerely believe that there will be others who don't have the same issues I did.