Monday, August 15, 2011

The Darkling Thrush by Josh Lanyon

TITLE: The Darkling Thrush
AUTHOR: Josh Lanyon
LENGTH: Novel (roughly 49k)
GENRE: Gay fantasy erotic romance
COST: $5.99

On an exchange program from Boston, Colin Bliss finds himself sitting behind a desk in London, trying to get over the fact that he’s had an affair with his married supervisor and has been discourteously dumped, when he’s offered the chance to find a book nobody is even sure exists. It seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, especially since he’s desperate to get away, so he takes the job, only to find his co-worker, the enigmatic Septimus Marx, on his heels the entire way…

I picked this up off the TBR pile in hopes that it would be a safe read from an author I trusted. Unfortunately, it turned out to be my least favorite work by him by a long shot.

The story starts out with Colin Bliss, a book hunter working on an exchange program in London, receiving an odd invitation to come view the book Colin had found. Colin goes, only to be offered the chance to search for a book that most believe to be a myth. His would-be employers are convinced otherwise, and he accepts. It’s a combination of a couple of things – curiosity, professional drive, and the desire to escape his workplace for a while. The affair he’d been conducting with his married boss has recently come to an end, and things are awkward at work to say the least. The search isn’t as easy as it seems to be however, especially when one of his co-workers, the enigmatic Septimus Marx, ends up on the same train to Scotland. It only gets harder once he arrives.

In some ways, this has the Lanyon stamp all over it. Told in 1st person, the narrator has a similar physicality to previous Lanyon heroes, as well as the same idealistic nature. The prose is mostly lovely, and the mystery/action (once it gets into full swing) paced well. But there are definite differences, too, things that most decidedly pulled me out of enjoying it very much.

First of all, the beginning is mired in awkward information dumps. For a fantasy world, he needs to acquaint the reader with what he’s created, but I found these pages the hardest to slog through of the entire story. It’s confusing until much of it comes into context later on, with a lot of unfamiliar names thrown at the reader all at once. It might not be so bad if I wasn’t also trying to get a grasp on what the differences in this world were. But I was, and so ended up trying to keep all these details straight without having the right or comfortable context for it.

It’s not helped by early editorial mistakes. For instance, Colin is introduced to the Lady Margaret Lavenham, the museum procurator. She alternately gets called Lady Margaret and Lady Lavenham (in the midst of trying to keep all the other names straight), and then gets referred to as Lavinia by Anstruther, the museum’s presul. The name Lavinia is never mentioned again. I can only think that maybe the character had a name change from an earlier draft and this one was missed. Mix these kind of mistakes with the brewing and messy world-building that was going on at the same time, and it turned into a big headache.

As familiar as he was, I did like Colin and his innocence, but the romance never worked for me. Part of that is my fault. Marx is introduced (in quite a negative light and in a very menacing way) as being tall and thin with shoulder-length black hair and slashed eyebrows. I couldn’t get a picture of Snape out of my head for the entire book. Part of it, however, is the insta-love feel when they get to the ending. It was rushed and unexplained, and ultimately unbelievable. The plot and action helped to keep me engaged with the story once I finally settled into the world halfway through, but even that seemed slighted by the hurried last quarter.

In the end, I just don’t think Lanyon’s fantasy writing is my cup of tea. This needed more pages to better explore the characters and explain the world, as well as a tighter editorial hand.


7/10 – The information dump and early editorial mistakes bogged down the first third, though it picked up as the story went on

Hero #1

7/10 – Na├»ve and idealistic, though oddly charming

Hero #2

4/10 – Some interesting ideas behind him but never felt realized

Entertainment value

4/10 – A boggy first third and an unbelievably rushed last third makes this my least favorite Lanyon title

World building

6/10 – I liked the ideas as I finally sorted them out, but the beginning was laden with awkward info dumps and too much was left unanswered



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