Review: The Moons of Barsk
BARSK: THE ELEPHANTS’ GRAVEYARD (EBR Review) was such a pleasant surprise that I can’t help but smile every time I think about the experience of reading that book. And feel bad, of course, because it took so long to finally make its way to the top of my reading queue. It was fun and engaging and intelligent without feeling like it was pandering in any way. So, when I saw that there was going to be a sequel… I determined that I was going to do right by it. To mention nothing of the fact that I was actually quite excited to hear that we’d be getting more from the world of Barsk. In fact, I can still feel that excitement in the slightest bit, even on this side of my reading experience.
Which is somewhat interesting, because it’s been a long time since I’ve been quite so disappointed with a sequel.
THE MOONS OF BARSK (Amazon) is the second book in what is now being called the Barsk series by Lawrence M. Schoen. I read an ebook version of it before we received the hardback. Despite the fact that I so love actual, physical books, I don’t think that any of my disappointment stemmed from the fact that I had to read it on my kindle. 🙂 Jumping back into the world of Barsk was an immense treat. The beginning felt familiar, with a new Fant approaching the dying island, and Pizlo came into the picture very quickly. Even Jorl showed up in those early chapters, and though it felt a bit slow at first, I was fully prepared to enjoy every minute of this new story.
And that’s why realizing that this wasn’t going to be any kind of great story was such a let down. I can still remember that hour during which my excitement and anticipation for what was coming soured, and spoiled, and crumbled into ash. I returned from lunch that day worried, and confused, and ultimately let down because of where the story was headed and how it was being presented.
One of the aspects of GRAVEYARD that I looked past was the occasional POV chapter from a character that wasn’t one of the core three. During that hour at lunch, MOONS took me from three POVs to six. And instead of providing me with engaging story, what I got was a lot of Fants in space giving me info dumps and lots of Fants on Barsk thinking about thinking. Even more upsetting, this pattern repeats itself a couple times, and pretty soon we had something close to ten POVs, and what’s the point of having ten different POV characters unless all they’re going to do is relay ideas to the reader and water down what story is available?
The plot, as it is, concerns the idea that some Fant want to expand out into space, against the wishes of the Alliance, and some other races want to try and colonize on Barsk, also against the pact with the Alliance. Pizlo, now fourteen, spends the first half of the book theorizing with the pontificating Archetype of Man that he found in GRAVEYARD, and the second half wandering around almost aimlessly, coming across pieces of a puzzle that he doesn’t really know exists. Pizlo was the hero of the story in GRAVEYARD. He was driven and focused and happy. Now… now he’s turned into an academic. At fourteen. And quite frankly, that’s ridiculously boring.
THE MOONS OF BARSK is a lackluster follow up that fails to return to the excitement of its predecessor. Ultimately disappointing and perfectly mediocre.
Although there are expansions made in the world (or universe) of Barsk, and more is revealed about the fancy magic-like system of soul-particulate nefshons, I was completely disillusioned not only with where the story evolved but with any of the characters of interest. Duplication of events and a lack of important impact, even when impact should have been obvious, was overlooked. Characters make choices that don’t compute, but do allow Jorl and Pizlo to figure out what is going on, which is what is important, I guess (no, not really).
What this book could have been is some great backstory to be woven into something that was actually interesting or engaging. There was almost no drive at all to the turning of the page for me, no tension, no anticipation. I couldn’t care less about who was living where or why they did what. And the end. The end. In much the same way that most literary stories end, the ending of MOONS could have made a pretty good opening scene for what should have been the story of MOONS. Speaking of, I have no idea why the book’s title has anything to do with the moons of Barsk, as they played an almost inconsequential role; more of a minor set piece really.
Still, as much as I’ve railed on the book in this review, it wasn’t overly bad. The author does know how to string words together such that I don’t feel like I’m tripping over myself as I read. He tries to introduce the new characters with aspect and meaning to their lives, which is a good sight more than most Science Fiction authors will do. It was, in my estimation, a very typical Science Fiction book though. I’m just a bit miffed because my expectations had been set so high and the mark this book hit was so correspondingly low. And that’s too bad. Because GRAVEYARD was a really good book.
- Recommended Age: 15+
- Language: Infrequent but strong
- Violence: No actual physical violence, but there is some threat of death
- Sex: A few direct references, somewhat strong