Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Death God's Citadel by Juanita Coulson

Once Vraduir had been a mighty king and sorcerer, but lust for power had led him to betray his people and condemn his son Tyrus to a heinous imprisonment. Now, disguised as a simple conjurer, Tyrus had followed a trail of strange thefts and kidnappings that led to where Vraduir must be planning greater evil.

Ever northward the trail led, through the Ice Forest with its impassable ways and into the Forbidden Lands, hautned by the evils of ancient dead. Beyond lay the Citadel of Nidil, the God of Death. And it was there that Vraduir held captive Illissa, sister of Queen Jathelle, whom Tyrus loved.

Grimly, Tyrus took up the trail, accompanied by Jathelle, one friend who was already cursed by Vraduir, and a band of unwilling rogues. But what could they accomplish against Vraduir- and the death God, from whose Citadel no man had ever returned?' -The Back Cover

Is that Yoda summoning a bird demon on the cover? A bird demon that inexplicably also has fangs in its beak? Great cover, which is the main reason I picked this up. 1980. $2.25 cover price.

At 400 pages of almost completely dialogue, the Death God's Citadel (henceforth DGC) took a long time for me to finish. There are flashes of brilliance in DGC, but I felt like it could have been stripped down and become a much better story. Coulson sticks to a formula throughout the book of 'one chapter action then one chapter chatting and travel' which is prevalent in fantasy novels and generally drives me crazy, DGC included. For the first half of this novel I was of the mind that DGC is a generic but otherwise enjoyable fantasy novel, but the second half really disappointed me with its excessive blathering and lack of a satisfying conclusion.

Death God's Citadel involves Tyrus, the ever-so-humble wizard (or sorka, as Juanita often renames standard fantasy themes in order to make them her own) and Erezjan, his little red-haired (referenced a hundred times, that ginger hair) werebeast buddy. Together they are searching for the big bad Vraduir, Tyrus' father and once-king of their homeland Qamat. Right away, I felt this book was part of a series, given the fact that Vraduir has already laid waste to Qamat in his quest for power, but I could find no reference to a prior book in the front or back pages (edit: Juanita's wiki page confirms it is book 2 of 2). These two righteous dudes immediately set up shop as entertainers, Tyrus an illusionist and Erezjan an acrobat. Two hot ladies come out and enjoy the show, and what do you know, they are princesses in disguise! Of course they would like to invite the two travelers to court for an encore performance!

The main problem I had with this novel is how convenient everything was from that point on for the Sorka and his altered beast friend. Need a sword? Tyrus had a spell to create one. Cold? No problem, a few words and gestures and a magical campfire appeared. Jedi mind tricks took care of any guards, invisibility saved them maybe a dozen times, and exhaustion was taken care of by conjuring up a magical root out of thin air, which eliminated a lot of the danger in the story outright. Yes, I know, many fantasy stories are like this, but DGC still seemed extreme in this regard.

Around page 105, one of the princesses is kidnapped! Of course, it was Vraduir and an army of skeletons, of all things. Even as a child I could not take skeletons seriously, which only got worse after I saw Army of Darkness. Is there a lamer monster? Tyrus, Erezjan, Jathelle (the other princess AKA the one with the big breasts) with her retinue and a group of hired brigands storm off to the deadly north to talk and talk and talk about saving her. There is some intermittent action that is pretty decent, especially when it involves Jathelle, for which I will quote a sentence—'She was covered with ichor and splattered brains of the demons she had slain'. Cool! Erezjan at one point snacks on some assassins while in wereform and then proceeds to vomit them up after transforming back into his acrobat self. The swordplay in this novel is great, there just isn't enough of it for my palate.

I won’t burden you with a heavy duty synopsis, as the rest of the book bored me to tears. The final confrontation with Vraduir and the Nidil the Death God was almost entirely dialogue and word play, which left us with a deus ex machina anticlimax. At one point it is discovered that Vraduir had raped the abducted princess, which is pretty heavy stuff, but that’s okay, Tyrus just cast a spell that made everybody forget that it happened. Nothing like a spell induced repressed memory to smooth over the bumpy parts of a plot, is there?

All of this is a shame, because Death God's Citadel is a well-written book that actually has some great parts, though they’re mired in excessive blathering and lame fantasy tropes. Huge fans of the genre might enjoy picking through this one, but anyone else would be better off selecting one of the classics.

I leave you with a picture of Juanita Coulson from her wiki page. She looks like a nice lady. I hope she doesn't read this and cry... or cast a spell on me.

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