The Wolves of Midwinter

Monday, January 02, 2012

        Review of Maria V. Snyder's "Touch of Power"

Originally, I had a marginal amount of book reviews here several years ago.Over the course of the last year, the average number of reviews per month has dwindled on this blog due to college, and work on a potential novel. This is something that has been lamentable in my life;however, it is quite necessary when considering the sheer business of my schedule. Other times, I have become disenchanted with book reviews because everything I attempt to read seems uninspired, or is filled with pedestrian prose. There have been a dozen of fantastic examples that have made me re-interested in writing more book reviews (Wolf of Tebron by C.S. Lankin,,Jon Sprunk's assassin series). One of the notable examples of a book that really infused me with enthusiasm for this blog initially was Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study which was an impulse buy from Wegmans. Another factor in my decision was a passing reference to the book by one of my friends two years earlier in high school who mentioned that "she was insanely addicted to the series."

     After buying the book, I still had some doubts, and one of them revolved around the fact that it was published by "Harlequin." Yes, that indeed seems like a trite reason for someone who presents themselves as a reasonably open-minded person. Nevertheless, the images that name conjures is men with bedroom eyes, and perspiring torsos who are irrevocably smitten with women with violet eyes, and sadomasochistic tendencies though these women have the veneer of being pure virgins. Maria V. Snyder's  Poison Study,  and her subsequent novels eventually debunked my preconceived notions. First of all, her stories were insanely fun to read, and her characters were very well-developed. Eventually, her characters would become friends that I reunited with when re-reading any of her novels much like how I always find myself re-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes because I sorely miss the eccentric characters who felt weirdly like friends.

      Touch of Power,Maria V. Snyder's latest novel, has managed to create the same cast of eclectic, endearing characters that have really helped to make her books such engrossing reads. Within this novel, the magic of the Study Series has made a triumphant return except this time the apocalyptic undertones that have underpinned a slew of recent young-adult books has crept its way into this book. During the first half of the novel or so, the novel expertly immerses us immediately into the action. The prologue itself was very sharply plotted as it preserved a certain measure of mystery. It was not one of those novels that begins with a seismic exposition dump that ruptures the flow of the remainder of the novel. From the first action-packed sequence, Avry, the witty, resilient healer, finds herself with a band of men of unknown origins.
     In many fantasy novels, This part  represents the travel sequence where the author can meticulously unravel the mystery of the characters, and allow for the audience to finally form emotional connections with the characters. Maria V. Snyder wisely uses this part of the novel to intersperse the needed exposition over the course of the next dozen pages. The effect is seamless as the reader never becomes aware of the author's measured manipulation of the plot.

        As I became more familiar with the characters, I begin to discern some parallels between the characters. At first, I was fearful that these characters were reproductions of earlier characters from Maria V. Snyder's novels. Thankfully, there were enough differences later in the novel to rectify this problem which a lot of authors, including myself, seem to struggle with. When you've read enough books by a certain writer, you tend to start noting some similar traits being used for similar characters.  Yes, Avry might seem to have some qualities that Yelena had except she seems more spunky. Also, some of the trials that Avry encounters would have been resolved differently by Yelena. Moreover, I'm pretty sure that Avry or Yelena would not be able to navigate the air-duct system that Trella, from the Inside Out/Outside in series, is pretty adept at finding secret passageways in.  The core struggle for all these female characters is seeking power and confidence in disillusioning circumstances.

   Each novel represented a different metaphor for different challenges that individuals must internally face to realize their full potential. Within the Study series, Yelena learns different aspects of magic as if to reflect the intricate process of self-discovery that Yelena undergoes throughout the novel. While in the Glass series, Opal learns the limits of her glass magic. Part of her struggle related to feeling unimportant in a world of magicians that seemed remarkably more powerful than she is. The glass orbs that she later utilizes as part of her glass magic could represent her "ego." She could become greatly corrupted by the intensity of magic if she allows her egotistical side to dominate. Glass,like our egos, are fragile and thus need to be cared for with prudence and a considerate mind for others. While Trella within the Inside Out/Outside in series is horrified by the political corruption of her world so she begins to live an insular life within the air-ducts of her world to hide herself away from the external world. Throughout the novels, she learns to use these air-ducts not to exacerbate  her feelings of isolation  from the chaotic world, but to learn to use her intrinsic powers to improve her exterior world which will allow herself to fully exist both outside and inside of herself.

        Within Touch of Power, Avry learns about the plague of violence and egotism that seems to have literally plagued her world. Similarly to the Hunger Games novels, the political structure of her world has become fractious. It is a deeply polarized world due to the grave fear of this mysterious plague. For both Avry and the reader, we ask questions about the origins of this plague. Perhaps, the plague originates from some institution or individual  that she was once enamored with. Like ourselves, Avry desperately wishes for civility within this chaotic world of hers. She is deeply frustrated by the limitations of her magic which she wishes could effect miraculous change upon this unsettled exterior world of hers. Throughout the novel, Avry must learn more about the nuances of herself and others while coming to grips with the profound limits of her magic. At the end of the novel, we are left with hints about a sequel that promises to unravel more significant details about this new fictional world that Maria V. Snyder has brought to life with vivid detail.

        Overall, I really loved acquainting myself with a new slew of diverse characters. As always, the dialogue was witty, and often made me laugh aloud which resulted in questionable stares from people around me.(Why are people so confused about the fact that books can actually make people laugh?") While, there were some striking similarities between some of the characters in this novel, and others: there was a clear evidence that Maria V. Snyder definitely strove to make many of them have enough differences so that this really did not become too problematic. If you need something richly entertaining, and generally fun to read, I highly recommend that you read this novel or any of her novels.

Thank you Harlequin for the ARC, and for continuing to publish these fantastic books that debunk any myths about the Harlequin label!!

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