Black Trillium – Julian May et al

“In the Eighth Hundred after those of Ruwenda came to rule over the swamp wilderness called the Mazy Mire (though not completely, for they never mastered the intractable Oddlings), legend and history both awoke to record one of those great changes which now and then alter the very balance of the world.”

I wanted to like this book, really I did. It came with a recommendation from a friend’s warm memories of reading this as a youngster, and the new reissue that saw me grab a review copy from NetGalley made me hopeful of an old series finding a new audience.

Then I started reading. And, if that opening sentence doesn’t warn you enough, it is possibly the worst opening to a book I have ever read. Every single mistake writing classes/advice warn you about is present: the overly long, info-dump of a description of the fantasy world, written in that stilted, ‘high fantasy’-stylised tone, full of made-up names about places and events that you have zero context for and thus really don’t care about just now. Pages and pages of this, with no action or dialog.

When we do finally meet the main characters, they are not all that appealing: triplet princesses (a blonde, a redhead, and one with dark hair – ‘cos, y’know… o_O ) who are just lovely and stereotypical: the warrior, the ‘brain’, and the soppy one. Each is sent off on a quest, but all three will be needed to save the land from the invaders, ‘cos Prophecy.

I’m sorry, but my eyeballs are bleeding, and we’re only a few chapters in.

To be fair, the whole thing eventually improves – to the level of a bog-standard, 1990s fantasy cliche, I’m afraid. It’s not awful by the time it gets going, but I’m afraid I can’t say it makes up for the awfulness of the opening chapter. And while the concept of the three famous authors each writing a character is certainly intriguing, I couldn’t discern what it was adding to the whole.

That my friend remembered it fondly from years back implies that (a) it’s more for a younger audience, and (b) fantasy fiction has matured greatly in a quarter of a century (thank goodness!). I can imagine that back in the early 1990s having three female leads in a fantasy would have been wonderfully different from most of what was out there, but it certainly hasn’t aged well.

Paperback: 491 pages
First published: 1990
Series: The Saga of the Trillium, book 1 (of 5, with the original authors writing different books)
Read from 1st September 2015 – 31st January 2016 (it was a bit of a slog!)

My rating: 3/10 – harmless enough fluff after a dire start, but hasn’t aged well, alas

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