Fiction Reviews

Guardians of Paradise

(2010) Jaine Fenn, Gollancz, £12.99, trdpbk, 336pp, ISBN 978-0-575-08326-4

I have already reviewed the two previous novels in this series (Principles of Angels and Consorts of Heaven) for SF2 Concatenation, and this review should be seen as a continuation, because there is no way that Guardians of Paradise can stand alone. Consorts of Heaven could be read on its own as the action takes place in a different star system to Principles’, the main character was new, and for much of the novel he had lost his memory and was still discovering, along with reader, just who and where he was.

In this novel, Guardians of Paradise, Jarek ('Sais' as we knew him last time) has recovered his memory and his trader starship, and he teams up with Taro and Nual from the first novel, to continue their campaign against the superhuman Sidhe who have lived among humans and controlled them since before we went into space. Most of humanity thinks that the Sidhe have been destroyed, but in this book most of the characters are Sidhe, have been harmed by Sidhe or work with Sidhe, so the frustrations of fighting a myth are less of a plot element. What does happen is that they spend a great deal of time telling one another what happened in the first two books. The structure of short chapters helps to break up the flow of information, but the prevailing impression is ‘New readers start here’. The ‘show, not tell’ rule is not in force. Nobody precedes an info-dump with the words ‘As you know, Professor…’, but on page 89 there actually is one which begins, “Would you like to know some of the history of this world?” – at the point where Taro and Nual have already begun an intelligence-gathering mission on a planet with Sidhe puppet-masters.

It is a planet with a Maori based culture, worshipping Tongaroa, the Lord of the Sea – 'the Polynesian Neptune' according to the Britannica, and the supreme creator god in Polynesia and Micronesia according to the Larousse Encyclopaedia of Mythology.  The 'paradise' of the title is for tourists, but we do not see much more of the culture than the equivalent of tourist image of New Zealand. One disappointment of the novel is that it lacks the first two books’ sense of place, largely because a lot of the dialogue takes place on Jarek’s ship. About half-way through I was thinking of the Beatles’ complaint in A Hard Day’s Night: “So far we’ve been in a train and a room, a car and a room, and a room and a room.” The floating city of Principles of Angels was a great deal more vivid.

Followers of the series will want to buy this novel because at the end of it we have three major new pieces of information in the war against the Sidhe.  It would be unfair to give them away; but two of them play no part in the plot and the third enters the action as deus ex machina 50 pages from the end.  I hate to end with still another unfavourable comparison, but I reached the final pages of this novel with the same feeling I had years ago when I reviewed Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, set between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back: that nothing much had happened and we were just marking time till the next major episode.

Duncan Lunan

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