Saturday, February 02, 2013

Battle of the Books, Fall 2012, Second Round :: Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal vs. Orb Sceptre Throne by Ian C. Esslemont

We continue the second round of the belated Fall 2012 Battle of the Books with Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal vs. Orb Sceptre Throne by Ian C. Esslemont. The book I most want to continue reading after 50 pages will proceed to the semifinals.

Glamour in Glass: Tor hardcover, April 2012, 319 pages, cover art by Larry Rostant. Glamour in Glass reached the second round by defeating Bloodthirst in Babylon by David Searls.

The first 25 pages of Glamour in Glass showed us Jane and her husband Vincent, characters introduced in Shades of Milk and Honey, at a Regency-era royal dinner party featuring "glamour" illusions Jane and Vincent created. Through the next 25 pages, Jane and Vincent work through a misunderstanding about the party, have an uncomfortable lunch with Jane's family, and begin a vacation to the continent, where we expect they will have a run-in with Napoleon.

Orb Sceptre Throne: Tor trade paperback, May 2012, 605 pages, cover art by Steve Stone. Orb Sceptre Throne got past Erin Hoffman's Lance of Earth and Sky to reach the second round.

The opening 25 pages of Orb Sceptre Throne introduced us to multiple different viewpoint characters, in various parts of the Malazan universe created by Esslemont and Steven Erikson. The viewpoint shifts slow only a bit over the next 25 pages. Stranded in the "Shores of Creation," Kiska and her rival-turned-lover Leoman meet a huge "Maker" named Stone, who tells them about one of the other characters we glimpsed in the previous section. The archeologist Ebbin discovers a fabulous underground chamber and enlists criminal aid to unlock its secrets. A brooding man named Rallick tracks the other characters' movements. A warrior named Jan is challenged to combat by one of his fellows who covets his rank, before learning he has a greater challenge ahead.

The Battle: The most difficult battles to decide are those with two very strong contenders in the first or second round. I've read enough of Glamour in Glass and Orb Sceptre Throne to know they are both extremely well written and engaging, but not enough to know where the authors are going with their respective stories. Yet the rules of the contest require me to pick one to keep reading.

Through 50 pages, the star of Glamour in Glass is not Jane or Vincent, but the delightful authorial voice, combining the style of Jane Austen with some sly modern touches. In this scene, for instance, Vincent confides in Jane that as a boy, he would practice glamour from a distance, so his sisters would take the blame for his mischief:
Jane pushed herself up and stared at him in astonishment. "You did not."

"I told you I was not a nice boy."

"You did not say you were wicked."

His voice roughened. "I would have thought you had learned that by now."



They were occupied for some minutes, then, with duties marital. To disturb their privacy would be indecorous. Suffice to say: the Vincents were a healthy couple, and with their differences settled, they were happily matched in temperament.
I love that. Here's something else I appreciate about Glamour in Glass: Most romance stories end with the hero and the heroine getting together. But anyone who has been through an actual romance knows that's the easy part. The hard part is making it work over the long term. While the prequel Shades of Milk and Honey brought Jane and Vincent together, Glamour in Glass focuses on how they make their relationship work. Even though they are certainly in love, it will be a challenge to grow their feelings for each other, given his taciturn nature and her insecurities. As with any romance, you are pretty sure they will make it happen, but you want to see how.

Through 50 pages, Orb Sceptre Throne has been a most pleasant surprise. I had the impression of the Malazan books as standard swords and sorcery, and perhaps they are, but if Orb Sceptre Throne is any indication, they are standard swords and sorcery done exceptionally well.

Most of the first 50 pages of Orb Sceptre Throne are devoted to arranging Esslemont's characters, like pieces across the board of a very complicated game. The set-up would probably mean more to someone who has read the previous books in this universe, but even though I have not, the game to come looks very interesting.

So how to choose between two books that are so successful to this point? I have no half-way objective basis for dropping out either one. But I ask myself, what I will do if both these books end up getting knocked out of the Battle of the Books? The answer is: I will still read Glamour in Glass to the end, but I will put Orb Sceptre Throne down in favor of another Malazan book that might be a better starting point for me——perhaps the first Malazan book, Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson; or Esslemont's first book, Night of Knives; or Forge of Darkness, the first in a new trilogy by Erikson. In other words, while both books have strong openings, for me Orb Sceptre Throne does not stand alone quite so well as Glamour in Glass.

THE WINNER: Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal

Glamour in Glass proceeds to the semifinals, to face either Song of the Serpent by Hugh Matthews (aka Matthew Hughes) or Auraria by Tim Westover.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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