Review: The Cycle of Arawn

I just finished reading the trilogy, The Cycle of Arawn by Edward W. Robertson.


As a trilogy, this was a bit of a mixed bag. The first book was so slow I barely got through it. By the mid-point of the first book, I was quite sure I would never finish the series. Finally the time tested (and youth-approved) mantra “why the hell not” got the best of me, and I forged on. The second book gets better by leaps and bounds, and the third book I wasn’t able to put down almost at all. The TL;DR version would be this: If you have the patience to get through a slow (book-long) build-up, you will be quite satisfied by the end of the trilogy. Otherwise, don’t bother.

The very first thing I want to say is that Robertson’s prose is absolutely spectacular. It is the main thing that kept me going when the characters felt dull and the plot meandering. Seriously, it was such a delight to read, it sustained me. The humor and dialogue (especially in books 2 and 3) are endlessly brilliant.

Book 1: The White Tree
What bothered me the most here is that the characters are all photocopies of each other, and I mean all of them. They ALL have the same dry sarcasm and glib nonchalance, and it made reading the dialogue dull as anything. Sure it was clever sometimes, but doesn’t anyone think differently in the world?  Additionally they all seemed to have the exact same moral philosophy, which stole any depth from the various scenarios, or at least left it solely to the reader to consider on their own. Perhaps this is why it’s so easy for the secondary characters to come and go as they do without any sense of change in the plot, as they do more than once.  Ultimately, the book develops very little real tension or sense of forward progress, and many times I had to force myself to pick it back up and remember what was going on when I had put it down.  The final conflict in the book is the endpoint of a trek that never felt particularly justified or necessary, so I moved through it without a real sense of urgency or risk.

Book 2: The Great Rift
The characters come into their own here, and the dialogue gets much better.  Additionally, the moral distinctions between the characters not only appear, but begin to contribute to the overall dynamic and conflict in a way that is much more interesting.  Again, the prose is brilliant throughout.  If you are a writer, I’d recommend this series just to sample the writing.  Plot-wise, I don’t really see why this book has to happen at all, but if you just go with it, things get much more enjoyable. Worldbuilding and settings are more maturely presented, and on the whole its a slightly above-average experience.

Book 3: The Black Star
We get a new POV here, and frankly, a much more engaging one. The tension and character dynamics are worlds better than previous books, and the twists and turns are much more expertly done. The prose continues to be fantastic, and I really-truly laugh out loud multiple times in each chapter. The only thing holding back this book is the sense that the main character is more-or-less invincible, which does reduce the tension a bit.  However, the added POV and the far more interesting inter-character dynamics are very enjoyable and real, and the plot finally comes together in a way that builds tension and keeps pace.  This was an excellent book.

So on the whole, I am glad I read it, but I would hesitate slightly before recommending it to someone unless they have the patience to work into a story that can, at times, feel meandering and pointless.