Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Battle of the Books, Winter 2012, First Round :: The Isis Collar by Cat Adams vs. The Scar by Sergey & Marina Dyachenko

Isis CollarScar
The second contest of the 2012 Battle of the Books, Winter Bracket is The Isis Collar by Cat Adams against The Scar by Sergey & Marina Dyachenko. As always in the first round, the winner will be the book I most want to continue reading after finishing the first 25 pages.

The Isis Collar: Tor trade paperback, March 2012, 380 pages. Cat Adams is the joint pen-name of C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, who have cowritten 16 paranormal romance novels for Tor. The Isis Collar is the fourth book in their Blood Singer series, featuring Celia Graves, a vampire (although she can be out by day) with the powers of a Siren. In a world that looks like ours except with lots more magical beings, Graves seems to find herself in the path of a great deal of netherworld mischief. In the opening pages of The Isis Collar, Celia has been warned by a clairvoyant that a local elementary school is in grave (sorry) danger. She goes there to evacuate the kids, but the principal is skeptical, at least until the dark spells begin to hit.

The Scar: Tor hardcover, February 2012, 336 pages, cover art by Richard Anderson. Sergey and Marina Dyachenko are a husband-and-wife writing team from Ukraine who have coauthored some two dozen science fiction and fantasy novels in Russian. They have won multiple awards in Europe, but The Scar, originally published in Russia in 1997, is their first book to be published in the United States. It follows Egert, a brash womanizer and excellent swordsman in a city that places a high value on these skills.

In contrast with, say, the character Locke Lamora in Scott Lynch's novels, Egert is no lovable rogue. He can be amusing, as when he dresses up in drag to get close to a married woman he's chasing, but he is also arrogant and self-absorbed. The opening 25 pages of the book end with him taking a most unsympathetic action. The book jacket suggests he will soon have a comeuppance that will dramatically affect his personality.

The Battle: The Isis Collar starts this matchup at a severe disadvantage, since I am not at all the book's ideal reader, having long since tired of formula paranormal romance. Still, the story moves along a good pace, with a few interesting details, such as how Celia overcomes an aversion charm designed to keep her from going in a particular door. The first chapter (28 pages) ends in a cliffhanger, and I was interested in what would happen next.

So the Dyachenkos would have to do something interesting with the opening of The Scar to win this contest. They did. There is a nice flow to their writing, with due credit to translator Elinor Huntington. Egert is a deeply flawed character, a product of a proud but distastefully militaristic society. The opening section of the book focuses on his encounter with a beautiful foreigner and her academic fiancé, who do not understand the rules of Egert's city, a train-wreck in the making that pulls the reader along.

One clear contrast between The Isis Collar and The Scar is in their use of magic. In The Isis Collar, magical spells are tossed around every other page, while in the first 25 pages of The Scar, nothing supernatural occurs at all. There are merely hints of backstory regarding a powerful mage who went mad, and fleeting glimpses of a mysterious figure. As George R.R. Martin has proven, sparing use of the supernatural can often be more effective. I am very interested to see what develops from the hints in The Scar, while I feel I already know just what to expect from The Isis Collar after just 25 pages.

THE WINNER: THE SCAR by Sergey & Marina Dyachenko

The Scar advances to take on Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint in the second round. That will be an interesting matchup, since I enjoyed the opening sections of both books very much.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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