(Penguin, CAN$24, 326 pages, trade paperback; published in January 2003.)
A Telling of Stars is a coming-of-age quest,the most overdone cliché in fantasy fiction. Caitlin Sweet adorns it with some decorative touches -- and I kept yearning for those touches to develop into something more: some obsession to sink my teeth into, a spectacular moment of revelation that would leave me gasping in awe, a metaphoric resonance that would make me think. But the exotic details never gained more significance than mere ornamentation.
Jaele loves to play with her little brother, re-enacting historical battles against the Sea Raiders. Her games become less fun when she witnesses the murder of her family by the aforementioned Sea Raiders. She then embarks on a picaresque journey, on which she will eventually re-encounter a mysterious boy she had met years before.
Most of A Telling of Stars is swathed in portentous sentences. Sweet trusts neither her story to convey its own worth nor her readers to get it. Peppered throughout are vague pseudo-poetic adjectives and adverbs that try too hard to communicate a sense of the fantastic and of drama while failing to capture the otherness of Sweet's nevertheless intriguing fictional world. We want to feel her world and experience it, but the self-conscious language acts as a veil.
The dialogue throughout is stiff and wooden, as if, again, the characters were all too aware of the importance of their pronouncements. No-one simply talks.
Like so much commercial fantasy, A Telling of Stars sits uncomfortably between the worlds of adult and children's fiction. It struggles to find a tone that will, on the one hand, be consistent with its stereotypical YA plot structure while, on the other, be convincing as adult fiction. This self-important and affected novel fails either way.
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© Claude Lalumière 15 February 2003, 26 April 2003