I am a picky reader, which doesn't work well with my also being a pretty voracious reader. And also I read very fast. Forgive me for saying so, (because it is bragging, and I do it because I had a learning disability and didn't really learn to read until fifth grade, so my inner child still has something to prove) but at my fastest I read 700 words a minute. So I go through novels very quickly. Despite this, I don't spend time on a novel I don't like--I just quit reading and move on to the next one. My shelves are littered with novels I have started and tossed aside. So the fact that I didn't toss Maledicte aside speaks to the fact that I liked it somewhat.
A short list of reasons Maledicte is worth reading:
- The gods in the world of Maledicte are intriguing and original. First off, they're dead. Secondly, each one is the patron of two things, one positive thing and one negative thing, but rather than being two sides of coin, these things are fairly unrelated: there's a god of health and greed, for instance.
- The title character is transgender, and in such a way as to be fairly fluid, which is unusual.
- One of the central characters, Gilly, is quite likeable.
- Another of the more minor characters, the king, is also likeable.
- The writing is good. Good phrasing, no grammatical problems, strong figurative language, etc.
To order, click the image above.
Aside from that, the novel has many problems, and the ending drove me up a wall. For details, read on.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
Except for the two characters cited above, no one in the book is likeable, least of all, Maledicte. It's hard to conceive of why Gilly becomes so infatuated with him. Gilly seems to really dig how sulky and rude Maledicte is. I do not. Plus, Maledicte kills cats. UNFORGIVABLE.*
To enjoy this novel, you must enjoy witnessing your protagonist commit one gory, brutal murder after another. Where Kushiel has sex, Maledicte has murder. And make no mistake, there is very little sex in this novel, and what sex there is either takes place between unlikeable characters, or amounts to rape.
Which brings me to one reason the ending pissed me off. I'm firmly rooting for Gilly, right? Even though Gilly insists on falling in love with Maledicte. So by extension, I root for Maledicte, because if Maledicte gets killed Gilly's going to be devastated. And there's this well-written build up of tension between them, because Gilly's hot for Maledicte, and thinks Maledicte is a man, and eventually Maledicte starts to fall for Gilly, and doesn't want to reveal the physical secret of his body. I enjoy sexual tension that's complicated with an extra layer of resistance like this. But a major part of why I was reading was for the scene I was convinced was coming, in which Maledicte gives in to his lust for Gilly, they start to fool around, and Gilly gets to uncover the secret as they do. This scene never happens. What happens instead (watch out, the following spoils the ending) is that Gilly thinks Maledicte died, and then when they are at last reunited, he not only has the shock of seeing that Maledicte is still alive, but also that he is a woman. And they live happily ever after.
The second reason the ending of this book made me want to spit nails was that I needed to see Janus get an ass-kicking (at the very least). In yet another instance of Sophia's vaunted ability to "see how a plot will unravel" going horribly awry, my conviction was that in the end, Maledicte would have to murder Janus, the love from his childhood and the reason he got into the revenge business in the first place. After all, Maledicte made a pact to murder the earl of Last, and Janus became the earl of Last. And that was just fine with me. Janus, of just about any character, was screaming to get murdered. I don't know why Robins thought he would appeal to readers just because... I don't know. Because he was a street urchin who got abducted... right after he tried to ambush and murder a guy for his coin? Maybe it was supposed to happen because Janus spoke like nobility even though he lived in the slums? Or was it just that we are supposed to love him because we're told over and over that he's pretty (same with Maledicte, there). And sure, sure, Maledicte was desperately in love with him, and that's why he can never kill him, because the god he made the pact with is both the god of love and vengeance. But there's a scene where Maledicte slays an enchanted child of himself, a shade that represents who he used to be. Couldn't he then be free of the love that originated in his childhood?
Anyway, I was left deeply annoyed. But this is a first novel, and I did like it enough to finish it, so maybe I'll give Lane Robins another try, if I run out of other authors to read. Which actually seems pretty likely, given my reading habits.
*FWIW, if you are a cat lover like me, and you like fantasy and don't mind when it gets pretty violent, check out Scott Lynch's Gentlemen Bastards novels, starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora. Cats figure more prominently in the second book, but the first is very enjoyable.