Friday, November 23, 2007

Review: In the Eye of Heaven by David Keck


It’s a great time to be a fan of epic fantasies with numerous examples of pure quality, whatever the cover looks like. With so much good stuff out there, there is going to be something that doesn’t rise to the top; that instead sinks into the muck below. David Keck’s medieval fantasy, In the Eye of Heaven does just that.

Durand is the second son of a noble with modest holdings in the wilds of a duchy far removed from the seat of the kingdom. His only chance at inheritance is ruined by the return of a lord’s son, long thought to be dead. He is left to scrape by as an errant knight, loyal to the lord willing to pay up.

Durand finds the service of a Duke’s son and witnesses a horrible atrocity while becoming privy to the treasonous plots circulating the land. He flees to find service with another Duke’s second son, seeking to re-gain his honor through anonymous success in the tournaments of the land. Eventually Durand’s past catches up with him as civil war threatens the kingdom.

Hmm…where to start? First off, things begin in a confused mess. Perhaps Keck wanted an heir of mystery or maybe he just didn’t want to be accused of laying everything out all nice and pretty-like. The result for me was a complete break down in just what Keck was trying to communicate to me as the reader. I spent the first half of the book in almost constant confusion as to what was going on, who was who, etc. The confusion moderated to merely abundant for the second half of the book.

The goal seems to have been for the world and its history to slowly become clearer at things progressed, while avoiding the temptation to resort to infodumps. This led to problems since Durand is really a rather clueless young man and needed the infodumps almost as badly as the reader – so Keck introduces Heremund the Skald (a skald is a medieval Scandinavian bard or minstrel – I had to look it up). Heremund simply knows everything that is needed to know at the time and he immediately completely trusts Durand and guides him through the world. Now, Durand has the tendency to jump around and end up in all sorts of tricky situations, many of which end up in separation from Heremund. However, there is no need to worry since Heremund always appears (no matter how far across the kingdom Durand has traveled) just when he is needed most.

Conveniences in the plot are rather numerous, with Heremund just being the most glaring. In another example, late in the story Durand suddenly becomes an expert sailor just in time to save an entire ship from certain destruction in a scene that as far I could tell did nothing to advance the plot anyway.

In addition to these surficial annoyances, some of the deeper implications bothered me as well – for anyone worried about potential (minor) spoilers, I suggest skipping the rest of this paragraph. The background plot basically surrounds the actions of a king that seems to be something of an idiot who nobody really likes anyway. In the name of honor, Durand and a bunch of other knights are completely loyal to said king, even though he has borrowed way more money than he can pay back to the people and blown it all on a distant war that is rather unpopular with the general population. About half of the kingdom’s nobility favors complete support of the king and forgiveness of his debts – the other half wants to de-throne him (did I mention the part about his ascendancy to throne being controversial). Even if the parallels with today’s world were unintentional, the blind loyalty to bad leaders that is at the heart of so many motivations in this book just doesn’t agree with me.

In the Eye of Heaven is not all bad – mixed in the confusion mentioned above is some really compelling writing. At times the book does become a real page-turner and Keck can write a pretty decent battle scene. His portrayal of the chivalry culture of knights traveling a land and competing in tournaments is at times very interesting and at least feels well researched. But, these bright spots cannot overcome what remains.

In the Eye of Heaven is a medieval fantasy that I found to be almost a complete mess – honestly, I’m still surprised I managed to finish the book. In my opinion, there is a lot of better fantasy out there. 5/10

6 comments:

Larry said...

I'm debating if/when I'll put forth the effort and read the sequel that I have in ARC form. I too didn't care much for it, as it just felt disjointed and dull and boring and just all sorts of blah to me. But then again, Erikson's first book was little better the first time I read it and I had two other volumes of it to go through and fewer unread books back in 2002, so...nah, I doubt that will happen twice :P

Robert said...

I bought this book when it first came out in hardcover actually, but haven't had a chance to read it yet. With the sequel coming out in Feb. I'm hoping to do a back-to-back review, but it's interesting to see what other people think of the first one. It's kind of gotten a divided response, but I'm hoping that the follow-up improves on the debut...

Neth said...

I'm divided about the sequel - I didn't care for this book all, so it'll at least be a while. I think that some comparison to Erikson is warrented in that they approached some aspects of their writing in similar ways.

There is room for significant improvement in the sequel, so the question is can Keck deliver on that.

Graeme Flory said...

This was a really close one to call for me. I had issues with it's structure (and a lot of the content) but I'm a sucker for stories about knights in armour ;o) In the end I went with my gut instinct but am hoping for better things from the sequel.

Kevin A. Smith said...

Larry calling it disjointed is the most accurate description I've heard. Thank goodness this was a library book for me and not wasted cash.

I just discovered your site via Pat's trumpeting your return. Nice work, I look forward to reading more.

Neth said...

-kevin

I'm glad you enjoy the site - I've got some interesting stuff coming soon.

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