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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Shadow Prowler (ARC) by Alexey Pehov

Title: Shadow Prowler, first in the Chronicles of Siala Trilogy
Author: Alexey Pehov
Reviewed Format: UK ARC
Release Date: April 1, 2010 in the UK; February 16, 2010 in the US
Pages: 400

Shadow Harold is a professional thief. His latest Commission (thieving job) has gotten him in a bit of trouble.  He hasn’t exactly gotten caught, just noticed by the wrong people.  The kingdom of Siala is overrun with a mysterious yellow fog and demons that hunt in the shadows.  Everyone thinks the Namesless One is to blame--a figure of darkness both evil and powerful who sends his minions forth to carry out terrible deeds.  The Order of Magicians bring Harold forward with a proposition: journey to Hrad Spein and the Palace of Bones to retrieve the Rainbow Horn or be sent to the Gray Stones for his perpetual thieving crimes.  The Rainbow Horn is a magical instrument sure to break the bond that ties the Nameless One to this world; the Gray Stones is the worst prison imaginable.  Harold doesn’t have to think very hard about his decision and it isn’t long before he’s off to the Forbidden Territory in search of a map that will help him navigate Hrad Spein.

Shadow Prowler is an interesting mix of races and characters looking and acting out of the ordinary from what I’m used to seeing in Fantasy novels.  It’s laughable for dwarves to have beards--only goblins partake in that particular ritual; elves aren’t beautiful in the classic waifish way so associated with their multiple literary appearances--they’re almost as ugly as orcs, their cousins, but only slightly more appealing.  Siala itself is a city built around thieves with statues and monuments erected to one of the best around.  The characters and setting are unorthodox and quirky.  The writing, however, I had some trouble with.

Originally, Shadow Prowler was written in Alexey Pehov’s native Russian.  What I read was an edition translated to English.  Translators have a hard job.  It’s difficult to capture the literal events of the narrative and remove them to another language.  It’s even more difficult to capture the sentiment and ambiance in one language and bring it to another.  Words change, meanings change--preserving literal meaning may come at the sake of the poetics and vice versa.  Translators have a precarious balancing act to perform; I don’t envy them the job.

When I write, I do so in two languages, mixing English and Spanish to get my point across. Sometimes what I want to express is best felt in the essence of one word or phrase in one language and not the other.  It works for me, I enjoy doing it, but what sometimes comes naturally, that decision, the need, to choose between one language and the other, isn’t always easy.  I’m constantly reminded of translators who do professionally what I every once in awhile trouble over at my leisure for a word or phrase.  Translating an entire work of fiction is hard, to say the least.

I hesitate to bring this up because I am so appreciative of how complex and involved professional translating is, but it’s important here.  In the case of Shadow Prowler I think the translation from Russian to English is part of why I didn’t enjoy as much about the book as possible.  The other part, and what makes this a bit of a sticky review for me, is realizing the original language may have been just as disagreeable to me.  This particular translation, albeit it will be the only one available in English, is not for me. Other readers may like it; I’m almost sure what bothered me won’t affect everyone else in the same way.  Let me give you some examples.

Harold frequently referred to himself in the third person. He also used “we” instead of saying, “I.”  At first I thought this was to add flavor to his cocky, self-assured nature.  As I read further, it became a choice of style I couldn’t warm up to.  There’s also some weird metaphors that I found too heavy-handed and awkward.  The translation in these areas, I thought, might have been too literal.  In addition to some mixed tenses, the inclusion of a bit too much detail, backstory, and flashbacks awkwardly placed in the narrative, reading Shadow Prowler became an act of choosing what to ignore and what to enjoy.  In this case, what I enjoyed was overshadowed by my inability to navigate smoothly through the text.

I thought the goblin fool, Kli-Kli was an interesting addition--I’ve never thought of placing a creature so typically thought of as nasty and cruel, in a position of levity.  Although the clever nature of the quintessential goblin came through, I appreciated it better coming from the most unlikely of sources. In this case, I was reminded of the Fool in King Lear who tends to know more and comment on topics and events no one would suspect him of having an opinion on.  Harold’s relationship with Vukhdjaaz, the demon looking for a horse, was comical in the beginning. I’d hoped he’d be included more, but was removed from the plot about halfway through the book. I was also disappointed in the disproportionate lack of female characters. This was only made worse by Harold’s constant inner dialogue as he toyed with the idea of flirting or starting a relationship with Miralissa (the female).  I will never understand why an author places one female in the text only to be surrounded by males who automatically want to consider her as a romantic or more intimate partner.  Why should she even be considered at all? Her role was much more involved, much more pertinent than it might otherwise have been had she also began sneaking off for secret rendezvous with Harold.

Unfortunately, since I reviewed an ARC, I’m not able to quote passages from the text to support my sentiment.  In fact, I don’t even know if the final edition reads better than the ARC.  It’s out in hardcover in the US already (mine is a UK copy), but do I really want to re-read the entire thing to find out?  Take what I’ve said here into context.  I read and reviewed an ARC. This is not the finished product. What you find in bookstores might be more polished with less minor contradictions or inaccuracies caught before final publication.  Clearly, Harold has a larger role to play in an unknown future with the hint of prophecy lingering about him.  The story was enough to compel me to finish reading.  I never put the book down because I was so put off by the negatives, nor did I “force” myself to continue reading.  As much as I found to enjoy, overall, I was not impressed.  I don’t think I’ll be looking for the second installment in this trilogy.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!

How many Jawas recommend this book?


Anonymous said...

I FINALLY just got to posting my own review, so I came around to comment on and read yours.

I have to say I liked Kli-Kli. It was a definite comedic touch of Lear to the plot--an interesting addition, as you say.

Altogether, it seems you enjoyed Shadow Prowler less than I did. I'll let you know if the second improves or not, though! :)

Erika said...

@TJ: I'll go read yours in a bit. :)

Kli-Kli was one of the better part of this book for me, but you're right: I did not like this one too much. I struggled with how I felt. It seems the translation was to blame, but now that I think of it, the narrative might have had a small role. Some of the nuances that give writing and therefore, the book, personality appeared either missing or misconstrued. That always affects how I read and enjoy a book.

Ah well, I'm glad someone I know is going to keep an eye out for the sequel. I am curious where it will go, and if it gets any better.

Anonymous said...

I'm not willing to blame anything on the translation unless I can truly see the original, but that may well have something to do with it. I really should go re-read Nightwatch and see if that translation was awkward. I read it awhile ago and wasn't a huge fan, but it was quite awhile ago now...

I'm actually pretty curious for #2...

Erika said...

@TJ: Either way I go, because the writing is what I had trouble with, I'll risk being rude. I've read enough translated texts to know when something comes out awkward or off, there's a sneaking suspicion of the translation first. It's a VERY tough call, which is why I tried to be so careful in the review.

I do want to read Nightwatch, even though the translator is the same. I want to see how it reads in comparison to Shadow Prowler. That's probably the best option for me! That way I can stop making these assumptions and have better grounds for forming an opinion, or however much better it can be without learning Russian... :p

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