A review of Silent Hall by N.S. Dolkart (Angry Robot, 2016)
Take five refugees from an act of divine judgement on their home; set them loose in the big, wide world; and have them stumble upon a dubious wizard. Throw in a prophecy which seems to refer to these five, conflict with elves who are the very antithesis of Tolkien’s noble elder race, and the need to free a long-imprisoned dragon. This certainly sounds like a recipe for an exciting new voice in epic fantasy.
Unfortunately, a satisfying dinner is much more than just an exciting recipe. The secret is in the cooking, and this particular effort can only be described as half-baked.
The plot is quite linear: they did this, and then they did that. Yes, we get several different perspectives but they are working together more or less as a team, discovering their unique gifts, gathering the artefacts the wizard wants them to find.
The characters are plot-driven rather than the plot being character-driven. A quarter of the way through the book I felt that none of the characters had yet shown any real agency. They seemed to be entirely at the mercy of the events that overtook them. Perhaps partly because of that, the characters also come across as fairly superficial – even the attempts to present the central characters as complex are superficial. And the minor characters are just ciphers, no better than the redshirts in Star Trek.
To cap it all, the world-building is at best rudimentary. There are clear ethnic differences between our heroes’ homeland of Tarphae and the mainland, but the author gives no hint of any cultural or linguistic differences in spite of the large distances involved. It simply beggars belief that disparate peoples in a pre-modern world all speak the same language, worship more or less the same gods, and share more or less the same myths – without any evidence that they had once been part of a single empire.
Now I admit that this book was up against stiff competition. I read it just after reading the latest from Guy Gavriel Kay and Paul Kearney. But this was not merely not in the same league, it was several divisions below them. Very disappointing.