Changer of Days – Alma Alexander

Changer of Days

Changer of Days

Summary

King Red Dynan has died on the battlefield, leaving his young daughter Anghara as heir. But a general, fearing the enemy, gives command to the king's older, illegitimate son instead, leaving Anghara at risk and fleeing for her life.

Review

I’ve had a mixed reaction to Alexander’s work in the past, with something of a feeling of missed potential. I was uncertain, therefore, what to expect here, but had somewhat limited expectations – especially for a 20 year old book. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, those expectations were exceeded.

The book has a pretty rocky start, with a prologue full of too many names and not enough context. This makes it hard to follow and be interested in the characters and their world. After an initial dread of the 600 pages to follow, I was pleased to find that the story settled into itself after a few chapter. After that, while a map would have been welcome (especially in the latter half), the whos and wheres were straightforward to follow, especially as, despite a grand scope, the book focuses on a handful of major characters. Those characters were engaging and interesting. While tending to fit familiar archetypes – uncertain hero, loyal supporter, wise mentor – they worked well, and I was almost always intrigued to follow their adventures. That falls apart a bit at the end, as one villain, never quite developed enough, suddenly acts in what seems a very uncharacteristic way.

The cultures and geography draw on some clear influences from our world, but the familiarity meant they worked well and could build on the reader’s knowledge and expectations. And there was enough that was new in the details and presentation that they were interesting and never exactly what one might expect. There’s a little bit of travelogue in the story, and I liked it.

I was less impressed by the magic system. It’s broadly encompassed by the term ‘Sight’ (with regional variation), but that’s a pretty bad misnomer, because – especially at the beginning – it has very little to do with sight. It’s never clear exactly what the power is, and it’s never really used for anything beyond a few minor tricks. Our heroine Anghara spends a good portion of the book learning to harness or rebuild her powers, and that appears to be an end in itself. The most dramatic actual use of the power is quite early on in the book. Beyond that, we’re mostly concerned that she have it. There’s a link to the world’s interesting theology, but I felt it was underdeveloped, and that the magic in general was a missed opportunity. There are other elements, especially at the end (e.g., some big drums) that appear to come from a different magic system altogether, and don’t have much foundation. Altogether, I’d have liked to see more cohesion in the magic. There’s also quite a lot of ritual killing of animals.

The core of the book – the great bulk of it – is strong and interesting, and read quickly. I was always interested to pick up and see what happened next. Unfortunately, as noted, that collapses pretty substantially, when Anghara’s chief adversary – and the central subject of the book’s tension – suddenly drops out of the story for no good reason. It left me sorely disappointed, especially because Alexander had been so clearly leading up to a stronger resolution. The other parts of the ending caused me similar concern – one thread in particular, depending on a foreign presence, never leads to anything at all.

As is fairly common in fantasy epics, there’s an unquestioning assumption that royal birth makes you a better person, deserving of respect. And that, if your kingdom is taken away, you get it back – no question about whether you’d actually make a better ruler. That’s s a genre-wide issue, but it stood out to me here because it seemed completely unacknowledged.

The book was originally published in two parts, and Alexander notes that it was always intended to be one big book. It works well this way, and I can see how the two prior parts would each have felt incomplete.

Overall, a good smooth read with a disappointing ending.

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