Around 1990, I read a book called Sunder, Eclipse, & Seed, by an author I’d never heard of – Elyse Guttenberg. It was an interesting fantasy that seemed to stop short, as if more were intended. I waited expectantly for further books, but they never appeared. Instead, two pre-historical books set in Alaska came out, the first of which didn’t intrigue me enough to buy the second.
About 25 years later, at my first convention (and so far only Worldcon) in Spokane, I wandered into the SFWA hospitality. As I edged around the table of chips and soda, pretending I knew someone across the room, whom should I find beside me but Elyse Guttenberg? I can’t tell you what a relief it was to have an excuse to talk to someone about something I was interested in. She confirmed that Sunder… had been intended as a trilogy, but that it hadn’t worked out.
In any case, when I saw The Power We Share, I was very pleased to have more fantasy from Ms. Guttenberg. While not the hoped-for continuation of Sunder…, I began reading with enthusiasm. I’m sorry to say that I finished reading with slightly less enthusiasm.
Guttenberg starts with an interesting world and magic system, but never really develops or clarifies it. I ended the book with little more understanding of how it all worked than when I began. There are humans and witches, but there’s crossover, and the world in general is changing, somehow related to the unmelting ice that forms the bounds of the world (or does it). Magic has clear rules, but they seemed to apply only occasionally, and for no clear reason (other than the vaguely changing world). That lack of development is the biggest disappointment of the book, because I thought both world and magic had real promise. A good deal of it is bound up in the backhistory of the parents of the protagonists, but their fate is left open, their powers unclear. In fact, it felt to me as if the book ended much as Sunder… did – holding out the possibility of a sequel without absolutely requiring one.
Much as the worldbuilding is promising but underdeveloped, I had the impression (perhaps mistaken) that Guttenberg wasn’t entirely comfortable with the social/character structure she built in – it verges a little too close (and too awkwardly) to a heaving bosom/doting prince romance, where I’d have hoped for more of an assumption of gender equity. It’s not much, but it surprised me, and I didn’t think it worked as well as it should. It doesn’t help that the start and end feel fairly rushed. The central romance is somewhat perfunctory. There’s a building war, but its basis is only thinly sketched out, and while there’s mention of previous war, there’s a single government with two power centers that have not previously fought, so it’s not clear whom the other wars were between. Molly, the lead protagonist, is frequently subject to important memories that return for no real reason.
The book also desperately needs a map. It was unclear to me what the world looked like (apparently circular), where things were, and how realistic travel was. Without a map, the geography is just not clearly described enough to be interesting.
That all sounds critical, and it is. But a part of it is disappointment that a novel world with so much promise was left in what to me seems such an early, yet-inchoate shape. It’s a great idea only half thought through, and I think the book would have been much more successful as a longer, much more fully developed series than with so many unformed elements crammed into one short book. It seems odd that, with so much time between novels, Guttenberg wasn’t able to offer a more coherent story. That’s not to say there couldn’t still be a sequel to this one, but many of the mysteries are too muddled to be easily retrieved and resolved. Ms Guttenberg has talent, but here’s hoping that for her next book, she presents a complete, unified story rather than a somewhat half-hearted introduction.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.