2.5 stars (For an explanation of my curmudgeonly rating and reviewing quirks, please refer to my reviewing guide.)
There are many things to love about this book. It has a great early Heinlein feel to it, and the positives are easy to list:
- a classic coming-of-age “lost prince” narrative hook
- a light touch with dialogue
- enjoyable character interplay
- a fabulous, intricately-designed, sweeping universe to explore
- good pacing
- plenty of history, plenty of twists and reveals
Great ideas. Lots of attention to detail. Fun creatures and creations, humor to balance out tension…but so many assorted presentation issues that I had to push myself to finish.
It’s a rough gem, but the setting interfered with my appreciation of its beauty. Grammar quirks. Repetitive descriptions and dialogue tags. Tons of dialogue without any tags, in multi-person conversations between people whose voices were too similar to tell apart. (I didn’t like it when Asimov did it, and I didn’t like it here.) Everyone was always standing up and looking around, sitting down and turning their heads, touching an arm and nodding. Everyone was always talking. Telling each other things that happened. Explaining the past. Discussing the plans. Recapping what happened.
All the things I listed are sins I am undoubtedly guilty of committing as an author. Perhaps I am blind to the shortcomings of my own children and over-sensitive to them in others. This is possible, but in any case, this book exceeded my tolerance.
Taken together the elements do make a storytelling style, a cohesive and perhaps even an intentional one, but the older I get, the less patience I have for it. I want more poetry in my prose. My other main issue is more personal. I grew up reading “boy books” because there were very few SFF titles with women in lead roles, so I have no problem identifying with male protagonists. I also have experience tolerating story lines in which women, children, mothers and girlfriends exist as props for the main character’s development. At least the women in this story have brains, brawn and other strengths and weaknesses. Like Heinlein’s women, and David Weber’s, they’re more than furniture. I’m glad of that, but they never felt real to me, not the way the men did. A shiny perfect prize is still only a prize, not a person.
Now that there are plenty of stories out in the world that have spaceships, dragons, adventure and women who are villainous or heroic, strong or week independent of their men, I’d rather spend my time in those worlds.
My advice? Read the Look Inside. If nothing about the style bugs you, and you have a high tolerance for traditional gender role-play dressed up in “strong female character” clothing, then you have a rollicking fun read ahead of you, with sequels to follow. This isn’t technically YA fiction, but the themes of maturing and choosing to act heroically makes it feel young, and the light, fast-moving plot full of aliens and adventure is suitable for teens.
Link to purchase: A Time to Build.
It may be just your cup of tea. Please give it a look.