So sometimes, you just cannot connect with a book.
Lies of Descent is the first book in a new trilogy by Troy Carrol Bucher. It is also a volume that fails in many ways to connect with the reader. The start is promising, if cliche, of a young man in a hard life discovering he has a very special destiny, and a girl making a similar discovery.
The setting is well crafted, including an ancient mythology that has generated multiple viewpoints upon the sources of these legends. This is less a matter of the difference between individual sects, and more the difference between actual religions with the same origin. The fact that an organization can be carried by inertia and bad information, even a religious one, is covered well as a theme in this volume, though one of several How these themes will play out remains to be seen.
The plot turns in interesting ways, although there is something of a Murphy’s Law to these twists, wherein something bad will happen to various individuals. One is kidnapped, then trapped in a country that disapproves of foreigners, and the other is attacked repeatedly, kidnapped, and sold into slavery. These are not all of the indignities the characters face, merely a few. Frankly, the push from indignity to indignity leaves the leads with little characterization beyond “determined” and in the case of Nola little, apparently no motivation for such determination.
The problem is that the characters, even the ten-year-old children, fail to connect with the reader in any meaningful fashion, feeling distant even during what should be gut-wrenching moments. The male lead, Riam, ends up in danger a number of ways, yet the only one to get a reaction more than mild curiosity was when he was nearly molested, and that because it comes out of nowhere and is merely a side reference by those who go on to sell him to slavers. The moment is bizarre, as is artificially aging Nola to look like a legal adult. These two decisions are strange, even more out of place than the brief pedophilia references in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, although this reference is unambiguously negative. The fact that the dark-skinned girl Nola ends up with the aggressive tribal people rather than the soldiers has certain negative implications as well, particularly given the intent to make her some kind of fortunetelling mage. One finds it hard not to see this as almost an attempt to push her into the magical negro mold. Nola does have almost as much character as Riam, and as a result the issue of being a prop for others disappears, although the problem of her destiny aligning with the group considered more savage is still present.
Overall Lies of Descent shows potential, but develops in a way that leaves the reader not caring enough to worry about the other two volumes in the trilogy. That said, for a fan of world building this is an interesting setting with a magic system that seems complicated without being irrelevant to the story.