The problem with genre writing is that there are certain expectations set up because of the specific audience. If you don’t give the readers what they expect, you will be less successful. For example, in Sword and Sorcery Fantasy, the reader wants a certain level of action. External conflict is expected to be important. If you were writing a literary novel, you could write a story heavily skewed towards internal conflict, because that is what Literary fans want. But if you are writing normal Fantasy you can’t get away with a concentration on internal matters, no matter how well you accomplish the task.
“The Greatest Sin” is the story of Chavali, the seer and fortuneteller to a group of transients that would translate into our medieval times as a very insular tribe of gypsies. The story divides exactly into thirds; the first third is all exposition, creating the main character and the society she lives in. The authors take a great deal of time setting up the original society and her personality. Based on this concentration, one might get the impression that this is a literary novel, and the “Greatest Sin” is being young and thoughtless and a bit self centred, which I doubt is a serious enough theme for this series.
Then comes the inciting incident where she loses everything: her life, her livelihood and most of all, her tribe, which constitutes a great deal of her personal self-concept.
The middle third of the story contains the exposition of her new setting and contains the inner action of coming to terms with the grief of losing everything and everybody. In the process of watching her go through her recovery, the authors have plenty of opportunity to make points about the nature of self and the relationship of the individual to society. Which they do in subtle and varied ways. From a literary point of view, this part contains the best writing of the whole story. These authors have the ability to reach into the depths of the human psyche and involve the reader’s emotions in what they find. However, as in the first part of the story, there is a great deal of expository detail. Also, the balance between outside and inside conflict is very skewed towards the inner, and as a result not much happens in the way of traditional action.
The final third is the action part of the story, the writing that will please fans of regular Fantasy. Here we have suspense, a difficult journey and action-packed conflict. I will not reveal the outcome, except to say that while it gives a certain amount of relief from the despair of the second segment, it also undermines the thematic argument by partially returning what the main character has lost. We like to see our characters rescue themselves from the quandary where the fates have placed them. We don’t want the author to come in with a plot twist that solves the problem.
However, the problem is not completely solved, and we expect a sequel, where Chavali will make further steps towards the recovery of her tribe and her own psyche. I look forward to it. After all, I haven’t figured out what the Greatest Sin is, yet.
A footnote: the production values of this story once more demonstrate the need for decent editing, even in a book written by two authors. The constant run-on sentences become quite irritating. The dialogue is peppered with modern expressions like “This is my stop,” and “Have a good one.” It wouldn’t take much more work to polish this up, but it needs to be done.
Recommended for Fantasy fans who like character development. Four stars out of five.
I was given an electronic copy of this book in order to write a review.