Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: The Tree of Life by Elita Daniels

Rating: 1.9 out of 5

The older you get, the faster life moves. Yes, that’s a cliché, but most times clichés have their roots in aspects of the truth. Days and weeks fly by, and before you know it you’re looking at the past saying, “Maybe I should’ve stopped for a minute to appreciate the passage of time.” When I find myself thinking this, and the limited time I have to do what I need to do, I abhor the things around me that waste my time, things that steal from me precious moments with which I could have been doing something different.

Not the best way to start a review, right? I know. But this is the way I started to feel while forcing myself through The Tree of Life by Elita Daniels.

I received this book as a review copy from the author. When reading the sample, it pulled me in because of the impending sense of sorrow and doom presented during the first couple chapters. I happily accepted it, thinking this melancholy suggested an impending expansion and heightening of emotion over the course of the text.

It turns out I was right. Sort of.

This is the story of Deacon, a young man with severe daddy issues. His father was a great and dangerous necromancer who wanted to use his son and wife’s “Riven” blood (According to the tale, Rivens are a people whose connection to magic exists on a level almost like breathing air for everyday folks) to bring about…something. The particulars of his plan were never really explained, other than he wished to overthrow the governing body of magic that was in place at the time. A young Deacon is kidnapped, his mother injured, and then by the end of this opening sequence the father ultimately sacrifices himself (somehow, again not explained) to save his son, and then Deacon’s mother marries an elf, among whom they live until Deacon is older and his mother passes.

From there, we reach the main gist of the plot. Deacon grows up to be a cynical, detached, and miserable young man. He’s haunted by his father’s actions and abandonment, thrown into fits of anger because of the pain the man inflicted on his beloved mother. So after his mother’s death, when he learns his father is somehow still alive, Deacon sets out, against the will of the elves who’ve helped raise him, to learn divining spells, find out where his father now exists, and kill him. He rounds up his cousins, Derek and Cedrik, and embarks on his quest.

Along the way he becomes more and more grumpy, works on refining his magical abilities, meets up with a beautiful dark priestess named Magenta, falls in love with her, and does everything he can to close himself off from everyone who’s close to him. As far as his quest goes, by the end of this much-too-long book, he doesn’t get very far, at all.

And this is perhaps the most maddening thing about the book. It’s long, it’s slow, and absolutely nothing gets resolved. I understand that this is the first book of a proposed series, but there has to be at least some resolution, doesn’t there? But there isn’t any. By the time we reach the final page, Deacon is right where he is when we start up his storyline – alone, awkward, and full of hate. He doesn’t grow as a character at all. He’s completely unlikeable, a winy brat who can’t let go of the past even though he grew up in what amounts to paradise with the elves. Perhaps this is simply a problem with myself. Maybe others will get something out of it I didn’t. Maybe.

The text in this book is dense. Page after page goes by without anything really happening. At times it seems as if the author is simply in love with her ability to turn a phrase, and she packs the text with allegory and explanation, which makes it read even slower. Not only that, but strangely enough the more exciting parts of the book are rushed through, as if the action is an obstacle to be skipped over. Towards the beginning, as Deacon’s mother is being escorted by emissaries of magical law in search of her husband, the group is attacked by an army of the undead. I got excited, especially considering I was still really into the feel of the author’s style at that point, but then…nothing happens. All of a sudden the scene is over, and we’re back to inner angst and an eventual marriage between Deacon’s mother and the elf (who she’s really just met) that helped save her. Huh?

And that’s another problem. Even with the over-abundance of words used, there are so many things that are simply not explained. The most intriguing aspect of the plot – what was Deacon’s father trying to accomplish, who is he, what’s up with the treachery going on inside the walls of their society’s beaurocracy? – are quickly forgotten about. After 10% of the book, they’re never mentioned again and we’re back to Deacon’s brooding and self-hate.

Now, it’s not as if this book was all bad. There are some interesting themes presented, such as the questioning of what makes us human, the soul-encompassing pain and doubt of love, and the duty one feels to a family member, even if said family member doesn’t seem to deserve it. But these finer points become overshadowed by the endlessly droning words. As I said at the before, the beginning is beautifully written, but it never changes. The tone never changes. It’s like being stuck in the mud and not being able to pull yourself out. In a word, irritating.

And there are writing quirks that get in the way, as well. For one, the author is in love with the word “presently”. Presently, so-and-so does this. Presently, another character does this. Presently, a campfire burns. Okay, I get it. It’s happening now. Also, to further illustrate the author simply packing words upon words, there are many instances of redundancy in the text, long passages that are repetitious or contradictory. Here are a few examples:

Unconscious of anything outside each other, they gazed on one another with an intensity that excluded all else.

Or then we have:

Within the gloom, Deacon knew a quiet grove in which he spent long hours of solitude, finding these woods to be the only place sufficiently quiet for him to escape and become entirely absorbed in his study, without fear of interruption.

And then:

She held him there, and there he remained.

See what I mean? And these are the shorter examples.

Now, I’m not one to sit here and blast a book. I know that it takes a lot of dedication to write. But it took just as much effort for me to read it. It took me three weeks to finish this book, and by the final paragraph I couldn’t help but wonder why I stayed with it that long. Perhaps I’m just stubborn. At the end of the day, the reader is not indebted to the author’s effort. If the execution isn’t there, it just isn’t, no matter how much work was put into it.

Maybe I’m in the minority here. Maybe others will read this book and think it brilliant. I’m certainly not the be-all-end-all when it comes to this sort of thing. And the author does show a lot of potential. She has a definite grasp of emotional weight and can craft some intriguing characters. If she only refined it, used her words at a premium, then she’d have something I’d willingly dive into again.

Until then, I can’t justify devoting any more time to it than I already have.

Plot - 5

Characters - 6

Voice - 4

Execution - 2

Personal Enjoyment – 2

Overall – 19/50 (1.9/5)

Purchase The Tree of Life in paperback or for the Amazon Kindle.

1 comment:

kevin blumer said...

life does start to speed up as you get older as a kid life was so easy and slow but wasnt enjoyable but when you grow up you enjoy life a bit more because your having more fun