I feel like it’s my patriotic duty to review The Hidden Stars by Madeline Howard/Top-Secretly Teresa Edgerton in such a way that you will want to go buy it. But every time I try to start, I end up with some variation on this sentence:
Goddamnit woman, if you hadn’t written Goblin Moon…!
So there’s a problem.
(‘All giant serpents will be fitted with sports goggles to prevent eye injuries.’)
One of the things I liked most about those of her books that I did like (everything but the Gwenlliant-and-Triffin trilogy) was that the villains were, basically, kind of crap at villainy. The evil conspiracy in The Queen’s Necklace was tiny, fractious, and awfully poorly-funded in comparison to the heroine’s friends. The Duchess in Goblin Moon duology simply could *not* find good help, and the zombie probably wasn’t the perceptive type even before he died. In the Green Lion books, everyone was sure Princess Diaspad was up to no good before she ever actually got up to no good, plus she had henchman problems.
So there are Forces of Evil hanging around, but they aren’t really Forces of Ultimate Evil. More like Forces of Proximate Evil. Don’t tell me that phrase doesn’t make sense. A lot of the time they’re in just as much trouble as the heroes, and for me, that’s a lot more fun. There are only so many times you can read a scene where The Sensitive One stumbles back from his crystal ball and stammers, “I saw… I s-s-saw… there are no words for – I saw something I can only describe as being the purest of pure pure evil!” before you kinda start questioning whether pure evil is really that big a deal.
The Hidden Stars doesn’t see that. It is about the Dark Queen, who has allied herself with the Dark Forces, which will shortly be consuming the world in a wave of Night, so please remain seated. It is not very subtle.
The plot is your basic Quest for the MacGuffin, but it’s one of those relentlessly grim quests. Variations on, “Just when Protagonist thought things couldn’t get any worse – they totally did,” appear at predictable intervals, and the book has no real conclusion – it’s the first in a trilogy, but even knowing that, it’s probably one of the most infuriating endings ever. And the last chapter leaves us, not with the heroine looking into the sky and thinking of the future, because that was the second-to-last chapter, but with the villainess proclaiming the coming of the new age. Because we’ve still got about eight hundred more pages of Pure Evil to get through, so don’t relax yet.
Something that’s occasionally made me uncomfortable before, is that Edgerton’s always had this thing about physical imperfection being a sign of evil, or at least of weakness. But I don’t think it’s ever been so saturated anywhere else. When I say “thing,” it’s not a simple sort of “thing,” because she frequently has her protagonists berating themselves for being afraid of or disgusted by the “deformed,” which I think probably indicates her own feelings – but in a situation where she wants to convey horror, she still inevitably invokes tumors, chimaeras, or stillborn babies.
This struck me particularly in the Green Lion books, with Diaspad’s ever-present army of wicked dwarves – but in The Hidden Stars, it’s worse, because it’s constantly there. There’s the Empress’s evil wizards, the Furiadhin, who have animal-like characteristics that disgust everyone around them (including the other villains) in ways that get described a lot. Even when the Furiadhin aren’t physically present, the protagonists are always thinking about them, and, when doing so, usually shudder or feel cold or nauseous. Clouds block out the sun where appropriate. The Dark Empress’s closest adviser, Noz, whom even the Furiadhin despise, is a “grotesque, one-eyed hunchback” – and even Noz wouldn’t dare to enter the room where she keeps her imps, which are “something like rats and a good deal like monkeys, no two exactly alike” and “flinch, jitter, and chatter their teeth, as if to show that even they are troubled by their own presence.”
My hypothesis is that this a personal panic button of hers that makes itself known when she’s writing something emotionally charged. If I’m correct, then that would seem to suggest – not to put this in too scientific of terms – that something is seriously eating the woman.
When I was babbling at my mom trying to explain my annoyance with my recent purchase, it kind of inevitably occurred to me that this is Edgerton’s first novel since 9/11 (because I just assume that everyone is depressed by the same things as I am) – there are a lot of scenes of military guys looking at each other grimly, and by that I mean, a lot lot. In the book, the thing that’s finally going to kill everybody is ancient, indestructible monsters buried sleeping all over the world, which the bad guys have started to wake up. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help suspecting what those monsters are supposed to be.
I already said I didn’t think it was subtle.
I’m going to read the rest of the series, because, well… because that’s how it works. But I’m still going to bitch about it on the internet! You can make me buy icky books, Teresa Edgerton – but no force on earth can stop me from whining on LiveJournal.
(The names in this entry were edited 2006/06/13 because I noticed Edgerton was no longer being required to keep it private that she was Howard. She technically was when I first posted this (though she cheated mentioning it on her message board), so I kept her real name out, except for a nofollow link to TeresaEdgerton.com. I bothered to edit it because I’m procrastinating on stuff right now.)