The Ruins of Ambrai (Exiles, #1)by Melanie Rawn Published 07 Mar 1997
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A thousand years ago, Mageborns fled prejudice and persecution to colonize the planet Lenfell--a perfect refuge for those whose powers were perceived as a threat by people not gifted with magic. But the greater the magic, the greater the peril. Lenfell was soon devastated by a war between rival Mageborn factions that polluted the land with Wild Magic and unleashed hideous specters called Wraithenbeasts. Now, generations later, someone is planning another war on the still crippled planet that will tear three Mageborn sisters apart.
"I am mad (petulant, in fact!) that I can't immediately read book number two in the Exiles trilogy.... Melanie Rawn has established beyond doubt that she is a great writer of fantasy and The Ruins of Ambrai will join the Dragon series in my library of favorites for years to come." --Realms of Fantasy
"The Ruins of Ambrai (Exiles, #1)" Reviews
Yes, this is a thick book. Rawn's books tend to be. But please don't be put off by how much space this sucker takes up among your paperbacks! It's a fabulous book: witty, imaginative, and intricate, with completely unique characters at every turn. Rawn's societies are amazingly detailed, completely thought out and thoroughly planned. Most of her books include a fair amount of politics as well as a ridiculously large number of characters - this book is no exception. I admit, I had trouble keeping the names straight. Luckily, Rawn juggles her huge casts amazingly well... and often provides a 'whos who', just to help you out.
Sometimes the politics got to be a bit much for me... a little long-winded in parts, leaving me wanting the story itself to continue. I felt like that detracted from my enjoyment of the plot occasionally. But Rawn gets you through by presenting these parts through the eyes of a character who is utterly fascinated with them, or by making the events and politics essential to the plot.
The book, in my opinion, was a little hard to get into, but once you are through the first chapter, you should be hooked. Just give it that much of a chance, and forget how long it is. You will fly through it once you get started.
This is apparently the first book in a series. At >800 pages it probably should have been two books. However I understand why it wasn't broken-up; looking back I have no idea where I would have chosen to split the novel.
On the minus side this book was a slog. A SLOG. It was very hard to keep track of characters: there is a metric fuck-ton of them and they all have very similar (and in some cases identical, damnit) names. And then there are only a set and small amount of clans (called Names) in the entire world anyway, complicating the issue even more. The Slogginess and Character recognition problem is also not helped by the fact that everyone dies. Seriously: don't get attached. Apart from the main three (or four, depending on how you look at it) main characters, no one is safe in the B-listers. All the secondary characters die, save for a very small handful. Oh, the backbenchers all live, but I had no idea who any of them were, nor did I care. The last chapter of the book is full of paragraphs that I'm sure are meant to be meaningful about how So-andSo and Whatsit are now married or Hoodiehoo, Thingie and Blhblah are now the Captal's official honor guard and et cetera, but, since the book spent almost no time at all with any of the characters, I really don't give a crap. They will probably figure largely in the next book, being as how they are the only ones left alive, but don't throw them in at the very end and then assume I'm going to have any sort of emotional response to their triumphs.
Another minus was a Plot Badger. The very first line of the book's description on both the publisher's website and the inside flap on the book itself is something that never, ever, ever comes up in the story itself. 1000 years ago, a highly advanced civilization landed on this empty planet to escape persecution they faced on their home world because they were all magic users. The society in modern day is medieval and has no interest or idea about their origins. It simply doesn't come up. Maybe in an offhanded conversation or two about certain banned historical books, and about language-shift, but that's it. What the fuck is the point? Does it figure into the next book? The one after that? Why even say that's what the book is about on the flap if the book has NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT?
On the plus side, it was so well written and several of the characters were so well developed that I managed to totally ignore all the minus' most of the time. It was really compelling and the world was so interesting that I didn't want to quit reading it. I won't be reading any more of these, but I'm very glad I finished this one.
Neither recommended or not recommended, but if you're interested in epic fantasy, then you might like to give this a try.
The author's grasp of her world, the family trees of the characters, and the political histories involved was impressive, but they could have been presented better. As it was, I felt like I was reading a history book for the first 200ish pages. From time to time I was a bit invested, but got annoyed when, just as I was beginning to take an interest in one character, the author would shift to the exhaustive history of another character. By the time the first character came around again, I had forgotten why I was interested in him. I feel like some good editing of flow or spreading out of information as the story unfolded could have had a huge positive impact on the reader's experience.
Also–a minor thing, but it really threw me–two very forceful and politically powerful women were mentioned regularly early on in regards to the political climate, but for a long time I thought they were the same person because their names were so similar. In the middle of a barrage of names/histories/family connections, two names that look the same attached to two similar women was very confusing. Once I figured it out I felt like a twit, but there was no way I was going back to read it all over again to untangle which had done what.
I was determined to finish this book, but it was a struggle for me. The main things that put me off were:
1) The characters did not end up being true to their described personalities (i.e. a woman described as poised and intelligent making rash, stupid choices in fits of anger, etc).
2) Characters making odd or dangerous choices with no apparent logical reason.
3) Lots and lots of traveling that ended up being (or at least feeling) pointless.
4) A globe magic system that was never really explained, but might have had something to do with the colors of the globes. (???) In a world that was described in so much detail, this seemed odd.
Yarg! Reminds me of Celia Dart Thornton and her unending dictionary descriptions of irrelevant rooms, only here it seems to be pocket 1-dimensional sketches of completely irrelevant characters. I swear I've been introduced to 200+ characters by name, almost none of whom I remember or care about because they're mostly walking stereotypes anyways. In fact, I was remarking on this very fact to myself just before reading the following line from the book:
"Veller Granfallin, for instance, figured as a villain in all the histories, but was never portrayed any more deeply than a layer of dust on the tabletop"
This, in addition to being a great example of the ridiculously over-the-top metaphorical language that seems to be required of modern fantasy, perfectly describes most of the forgettable characters in the book.
Which is a shame, really, because unlike Ms. Thornton, Ms. Rawn actually appears to have a story to tell. There is an interesting world here with an intriguing matriarchal society and some interesting political twists in an otherwise run-of-the-paper-mill evil wizards taking over the world story.
Or perhaps I should say there would be an interesting world and political twists if only the details held together at all, which they mostly don't. For example, the government is a representative democracy, but its leader has taken over enough power single-handedly to completely destroy one of the 15 member-states, apparently without comment or protest from any of the others. So shes really an absolute dictator with a puppet government, right? But no, mere chapters later she is scrabbling for votes in council and not doing things because they might be perceived badly. Hello? You just had every single man, woman, and child in California executed and every building in the state burnt to the ground, and you're pushing for votes in Congress about tax laws? Do whatever the hell you want; they obviously can't stop you. Which reminds me; she has the state of Ambrai invaded by the army because they attempt to thwart her. Ambrai was apparently one of the biggest economic and cultural centres on the planet and yet apparently every single person who lived there was killed or driven off, and noone even came back to loot the bodies - much less re-settle - for 17 years. That is so fantastically wildly improbable - both the efficiency of its destruction and the lack of resettlement - that I hadn't gotten over it before some refugees finally wander in and start living off the food left lying around 2 decades before! And in a world where we continuously get it pushed down our throats how poor and downtrodden the average peasant is!
It goes on (people risking their lives based on the assumption that an ancient nursery rhyme about pigs refers to a particular (modern) toy store; a matriarchy of Victorian-era sexism reversed, but with over a third of its prime governmental body males - and almost all of the members of the cult of bad guys; a Muslim-like stricture against males going outside with their heads uncovered... which is apparently followed by every other male in the society except all of the main characters; etc...) but I'll stop. The worst thing is that half the time the contradictory details weren't even necessary to the story - just leave them out and you're fine!
But I persevered, because I did at least want to see how the few more interesting characters got along, and see what happens with their little rebellion, and to find out how the evil baddie gets it in the end. Wish I hadn't bothered. The baddy gets eaten by the Ghost of Christmas Past (or some other previously unmentioned spiritual Deus Ex Machina plot device, I forget,) the baddy's henchman turns to good apropos of nothing and his daughter forgives him his extensive list of brutal butcheries on the basis of blood ties she didn't even know existed 5 minutes before, and the rebellion happens off camera with the good guys just turning up and shouting "Hurrah! We won!" The interesting characters? They fall in love and get married in direct contrast to everything they stood for up to that point - but thats fairly standard grade-school hair-pulling romance, and so the most believable thing by far about the end of the book.
Although I LOVED this book and the second one in the series, I do NOT recommend that anyone read either of them, YET. The third book has never been written and it has been over 12 years since the last one was published. If and when the final book comes out I will change this rating, but so many unanswered questions/cliff hangers really spoil the first two books.
I loved this book, but I would recommend against picking it up. If you read this and the sequel, the story draws you in and leaves you wanting to know what happens next, along with a bit of what happened in the past as some of the backstory has not yet been revealed. But the third book in the series is MIA, and has been for decades. It may come out one day, it may not. However, my feeling is that reading something that leaves you this hungry for more is just an exercise in futility until that one is released. If you want to read some Melanie Rawn, read her Dragon Prince/Star books, or the new ones she's been working on.