Monday, June 17, 2013
Book Review: "The Scrivener's Tale" by Fiona McIntosh
I'll be the first to admit that "fantasy" is an awfully broad category. But McIntosh's latest novel The Scrivener's Tale truly does fit squarely into the realm of "classic fantasy." Don't immediately start thinking of The Sword of Shannara or the Dragonlance Chronicles, though; this isn't your typical magic-wielding situation. Instead, picture this: Gabriel, a former psychiatrist living in modern-day Paris, agrees to see one last patient as a special favor to a friend. But the patient who appears to be a lost, delusional girl turns out to be a demonic minion who uses the unsuspecting Gabriel to somehow transport both of them to another world. Now Gabriel must hide his consciousness inside his own body while the minion and her demon use it to wreak havoc on the kingdom of Pearlis.
Meanwhile the Brotherhood, an order sworn to protect the royal family of Pearlis, has become aware of the demonic threat. One of their own, Cassien, has been trained from birth to deal with such an eventuality. Now with the help of a young boy and a legendary magic wielder, it's up to Cassien to defend his princess and save Pearlis from the demon's ancient evil.
So, now you see what I mean when I say "classic fantasy." You have a princess in trouble, a handsome and peerless warrior, an unspeakable evil, world-traveling, and magic. But despite the theme, which may seem unoriginal at first glance, this was a genuinely well-written story. It did start out pretty rough, though, writing-wise. It felt like McIntosh was just so excited to get started telling the story that she had some trouble clearly articulating the setup. I had a really difficult time getting my bearings with the initial perspective of the story, and I understand McIntosh's desire as a writer to set up the background of the story from the beginning (especially since there's such a rich back story in this case) but I think this would have been better presented through the process by which the characters learn about their own past. All the prologue did for me was confuse and disorient.
But if I overlook the initial clunky start, the rest of the book was well-done and entertaining. In particular, Gabriel's character and his reaction to world travel and demonic possession were extremely believable. He was a very sympathetic character, and McIntosh did a great job writing the confusion, disbelief, outrage and disorientation that I imagine a situation like this would instill in an ordinary person just trying to go about his life.
One other glaring issue I had with the book didn't have to do with the story itself though; it was the title. Although there is a scrivener's quill involved in the book, and the question of what exactly a scrivener is gets addressed very clearly, there is no scrivener in the story. At the very tail end of the book one character expresses an interest in maybe exploring the possibility of a life as a scrivener, but I didn't feel that this tentative association justified entitling the whole book The Scrivener's Tale.
If you love classic fantasy but want a break from elves and dwarves, or if the theme of travel between worlds piques your interest, I recommend that you pick up a copy of The Scrivener's Tale by Fiona McIntosh. It was released in April and is available now at your local independent bookstore.