September 11, 2010

Lord of the White Hell by Ginn Hale

Lord of the White Hell - Book 1 (of 2) by Ginn Hale
Blind Eye Books
Rating:  3 out of 5

Michael and I were both excited when this book arrived.  We read it aloud to each other a chapter at a time.  We had high expectations because we've read a couple other titles from Blind Eye Books (Hale's debut Wicked Gentleman and Astrid Amara's The Archer's Heart) that we both liked...

First off, I want to say that we really support the vision of Blind Eye Books, a small press based out of Bellingham, WA, that publishes fantasy/sci-fi with gay and lesbian protagonists.  Currently, they have 5 novels (including Lord of the White Hell divided into two books) and 2 anthologies.  6 of 7 of their titles feature male protagonists and the ones we've read have a strong romantic subplot, which I take to mean that they are capitalizing on the market of M/M romance popular among females (inc. some lesbians) that also includes some gay male readers.  I remember seeing Blind Eye at Yaoi-con last year, though I hadn't read any of their titles yet at that point.

Lord of the White Hell follows Kiram Kir-Zaki, a 17-year-old Haldiim who is really good with machines (insofar as machines exist in a medieval type of world).  His parents have enrolled him in an all-male academy where everyone is Cadeleonian.  Kiram is dark-skinned and curly light-haired whereas Cadeleonians are light-skinned and dark-haired; in other words, there's some racial politics to the story.

Kiram's culture is matriarchal, takes a neutral position on same-sex relationships and has an historic faith that resembles animism.  Conversely, the Cadeleonians are monotheistic, patriarchal, structured and strict.  In the course of the first book, we actually don't see how the Cadeleonians would respond to a same-sex relationship, but it's made explicit that the answer is not good. 

On his first day at the academy, Kiram meets Javier Tornesal. A few years older than Kiram, Javier is a cocky Cadeleonian duke that is plagued with a curse that the Cadeleonians call the "white hell."  Whereas Kiram is treated badly for being Haldiim, a lot of students are afraid of Javier because of the curse, which gives Javier power to heal quickly, shoot violent sparks from his hands and a few other powers.  He is regularly subdued with poison under the auspices of penance and a fear that the curse will consume him otherwise (although there is question in Kiram's mind whether this is the true reason).

Kiram and Javier share a room as outcasts in a tower of the academy.  The two are attracted to one another and share sporadic bouts of passion that only makes their relationship more complicated.  Basically, the story is about their budding relationship, Kiram's adjustment to the academy, with a background mystery concerning the curse.

Overall the worldbuilding is good, but what bogged the story down, and why I ultimately give it a lower-ish rating, were three weaknesses that blend together:  (1) the pace, (2) an overuse of nonessential dialogue and (3) repetition.  In terms of pace, the story is divided into two books when we think it should only be one.  A number of scenes felt like filler, and sometimes within an entire chapter, the plot crawled forward.  This changes for the better in scenes with Kiram's uncle and his husband, but the story from Kiram's perspective felt too limited (or something).  More and more I wanted to know about what was happening beyond Kiram rather than listen to his friend Nestor talk about his drawings for the third or fourth time.

Hale overuses the word "bow":  people are bowing left and right, both their heads and their waists.  People are also giving people kinds of looks frequently, so much that we stopped caring what kind of smile Javier was giving Kiram.  This is just a matter of having different ways to describe characters (filling beats between lines of dialogue), which we felt Hale did a much better job of in Wicked Gentlemen.  Oh, and the typos...probably around 30 of them.  Too many!

I preordered both books and have begun reading the second one.  Michael and I have decided not to read it aloud, but the concluding half still has a lot of potential.

(Me talking to author Ginn Hale, UW Bookstore, 2013)

1 comment:

  1. I, too am a fan of Ginn Hale. I loved her debut book, Wicked Gentlemen. So when Ginn Hale announced that she is going to be releasing a new book I was nothing short of ecstatic. I wanted to read more from Ginn Hale and I had high expectations from Lord of the White Hell, being a huge fan of Wicked Gentlemen.

    Upon finishing the first book with Alan, my partner and author of this review, I was a little bit disappointed with it. I agree with the issues that he raised in this review.

    My main complaint is that the world, I felt, was grossly underdeveloped. I didn't make a connection with the world in some instances. For me when it comes to fantasy novels you have to be able to portray the world as something organic. Alive. You should be able to picture the characters living in that world. It shouldn't be just a backdrop in the story. So far I can't say that the world in Lord of the White Hell did that. I am really heart broken to feel this way because I think that the environment could have been more believable - and therein lies my problem. There was nothing much to believe about the world. I have a hard time making a mental picture of the world in my head. Of course I am not saying in totality that the world doesn't exist at all. It just wasn't developed enough for me to make me believe in the universe that these characters inhabit.

    My second issue is character development. While Kiram and Javier and the supporting characters are memorable they seemed to lack that "realness" factor. My favorite character, I must say, is Fedeles and he only played a small role. Fedeles is quirky and he is described and portrayed with much ease as to make the readers believe his personality, which makes Fedeles tangible and “real.” Kiram has some quirkiness in him too that is very enticing and believable and I connected with him on some level. I just wished that by the time the first book ended, that I would have been more attached to the main characters.

    Another issue I have is the pacing. There were, for my personal taste, a lot of scenes that felt like "fillers." I felt like some of the scenes are just there to be there. Some of them don’t move the story forward at all. If these scenes are a must in the story, at least they could have focused more on character development so that they don't feel like they are just talking points. It's kind of like socializing at a bar with a random person. You have a conversation with them but you know you’ll get nothing from it other than making small talk and that you won't remember them the next day and won't be compelled to anyway. I actually don't mind such scenes as long as you're getting something from them - like giving us an inside look of the characters' personalities (how they interact with their environment and with each other, their idiosyncrasies, and their "voice"). But with scenes that feel like just "fillers" the pacing of the story takes a huge hit and it is distracting and annoying.

    Lastly, there were a lot of typos and grammatical errors splattered throughout the book. This really bogs down the readability of the book. Also the obscene usage of the word "bow" is distracting. Everyone is just "bowing" left and right, down and up.

    With all of my complaints, I still like the book and I do agree with the 3.5 rating. Ginn Hale is a phenomenal author. She is artistic and imaginative and PLEASE read her first book, Wicked Gentlemen. I would also recommend this book, Lord of the White Hell. While it might sound like this is a scathing review, please consider that I am reviewing this with a strong personal opinion with specific personal tastes. So don't let me speak for the book. I still support the ideas/concepts presented in the book that makes you want to learn more. Ginn Hale has created a story with enough intrigue and conflict and mystery that you'll want to keep reading. She also created a lovable cast.