Thursday, January 17, 2008

“- cause fantasy is a genre that is flailing its way toward the nearest tar pit to become extinct if people don’t stop writing the same book over and over again.”

Series: The Braided Path (TBP)

Volume 1: The Weavers of Saramyr (2003)

Volume 2: The Skein of Lament (2004)

Volume 3: The Ascendency Veil (2005)

Author: Chris Wooding

Publisher: Gollancz

# of Pages: a lot!

Genre: Fantasy

Began Reading: December 14th, 2007

Finished Reading: January 14th, 2007

About: The Braided Path series follows the Empire of Saramyr which, for the past two thousand years, relies more and more on the talents of the Weavers, men who have the power to see and navigate within a 'fourth dimension'. Mostly used as a means to communicate, what began as an accessory found in every noble home soon develops into the pillar of Saramyr society. The Weavers fast exploit their position and a growing number of people – to avoid spoilers, let us call them the 'Anti- Weavers' – gather to rebel. The trilogy follows a vast cast of characters but the back bone of the story revolves around two strong females: Lucia, the Heir-Empress who is born with a talent that her mother hides from the world in fear for her child's life and throne and Kaiku, a young noble woman who fights to stay alive after everything she holds dear is taken away from her.

Jon C. Grimwood writes that Wooding is exploring "sexual politics" in his series (back of book cover Volume I). Though the main characters are female, Grimwood does not give Wooding enough credit for the intrigue he develops in the series. The tension in his characters is as strong as the plot - a characteristic not often found in typical fantasy. Whereas "sexual politics" may well apply to the Sword of Truth series (Terry Goodkind – a flop after volume 3), Wooding's heroes and villains are not so two-dimensional.

Best example would be the moments of reflection his characters often have. These moments of introspection are not only windows into thoughts but develop the character themselves. Much like Hamlet's monologues, the audience becomes aware of the personage in moments of solitude as much as in times of action. Odd yet involving for any novel, much less fantasy.

There are several instances throughout the series where characters actually take the time to contemplate – scenes that are in sharp contrast to the action packed moments. The selection read is one such instance that not only exemplifies this point but also demonstrates some of the riskier writing tactics Wooding uses. Kaiku for the past 100 pages has reluctantly been admitting to herself that she desires Saran. But the reader, having already become familiar with her from Volume 1, should be familiar with the fact that this is a half-truth. For Kaiku to respond and consider Saran in such a manner means she is willing to take this further than the physical level. Wooding never writes this explicitly until this scene when Kaiku confesses this to herself. The impact lies in the fact that we along with the author are conscious of her imperfection. This scene demonstrates one manner which the character develops and matures. I write "risky" because had anyone not been paying attention, the moment would have been lost and made useless. Wooding has faith it seems in us all... and expectation.

So What?:

"The Braided Path trilogy took me about three years to write, but I had to get it out of my system. I'd always wanted to write an epic fantasy as they were the first books I really fell in love with; but of course I wanted to do it my way, because by the time I grew up I was pretty bored with dragons and wizards and was wondering why everybody uses stock monsters and the old Dungeons and Dragons system of elf/dwarf/goblin, instead of using five-headed acid-spitting photovores that can iridesce their way through space-time – ie, something faintly original. (I did have several better ideas than that, but I deleted them cos I want to use them myself later J) TBP is an attempt to do something original within the trad-fantasy structure, 'cause it's a genre that is flailing its way toward the nearest tar pit to become extinct if people don't stop writing the same book over and over again." -ChrisWooding (

How astute! The genre is oft times misunderstood even by its own followers. Too many believe the E/D/G ratio to be at the core of the genre. However, a villain does not a good novel make. Rather the heart in fantasy rests in how an author can leverage the style to cultivate a system of logic, reality, vocabulary and science which forces the reader to be humbled by their lack of knowledge. Like a babe, the audience must take their first steps in an unknown world and it is the author's responsibility to do so in a creative, intriguing manner. Why? Imagine that in these places and within these characters the words "nigger", "feminist", "prime minister" etc do not exist. These worlds may contain their own set of prejudice, legal system and history but it is one that ostracizes the reader. And with that, I would argue, one can construct the most objective of opinions/positions as humanly possible. We can be entertained by the novelty these worlds offer and still use these tales to further our discussions on philosophy, politics and ethics.

With that we have what I would call the "teach me" scene – moments where characters, and in turn the reader, learn more about the world.

Tolkien termed the concept of "application" in relation to the fantasy genre and his own body of work (Jackson's LOR Bonus Feature on DVD). Tolkien's own LOR trilogy was not meant as a parody of, as is often argued, World War II or the Christian faith but of both and more. His reason for writing his story in the fantasy genre was so that the audience can apply the work as a metaphor to many such events. Whereas Tolkien is relating the tale to historical incidents I would dare to take the concept another step further and argue that fantasy provides a neutral platform for discourse on theoretical topics as well.

Wooding's TBP leverages this with his characters and plot. He provides content in which the audience can discuss gender politics, war and ethics. Most resounding in TBP is how the characters at one point or another face a "Sophie's Choice", an ultimatum that is a guaranteed loss.

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Wooding doesn't stop there. He takes the classic love story and tears it apart throughout the story.

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Whereas it seems more and more fantasy plots revolve around the romantic couple, Wooding makes love a consequence of his plot. Refreshing because it allows him to add quirky twists which make them more realistic. No rival for Lan and Nynaeve (Robert Jordan) but close.

And there is of course, politics. Not usually something of interest for me but here his characters were so consistent yet unpredictable.

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Wooding's word choice when it comes to domestic affairs is precise and chilling. It is the sections that he has mastered and would dare say that The Wheel of time Series could do with.

Unfortunately, Wooding has not (yet) created an epic. He had the right characters and storyline but he is missing details. His Oriental influence is so glaring that it destroys much of the mystery. The exotic soon dies in his characters and it at times feels like TBP is a 'What if?" history work. Wooding states on his website, "Saramyr gained an oriental theme, based on a blend of ancient Japan, China, Persia and Renaissance Italy and not resembling any of them very much in the end." It's that last part that would have to disagree with! The Japanese and Chinese influence is so strong it overshadows the tale.
Bottom line is that Wooding's own metaphors are so connected with Earth that at times its even jarring. Perhaps if he had taken a bit more time, the details could have been accentuated and perfected.

What were they thinking? The covers need revamping. Volume 3 is so bad I added it to the Awful Book Cover selection to the left.

However, they did release a collection of the three volumes in one which is a significant improvement.

Of Note: The author in question published at the age of twenty-one. He is now thirty years old, lives in Madrid and has published twenty – yes, 20 - novels. You can visit his website at and check the long list for yourself.

To Chris Wooding, the Writing Machine.

Since this is online and there is a small chance you may actually read this...

Why Flen? Anyone but Flen! One of the simplest yet truest characters that have ever encountered and you X him.. You seem to have a certain pleasure in axing - so much so that I thought you may have had tea with G. R. R .Martin himself!

That being said, it would seem you are one of the few people alive interested in fantasy. That's an open invite if you are ever in MTL. Get out of Madrid – the food there is bad!

And finally, thanks. Avant-garde is always refreshing. Am a bit jealous. The good kind though. - vgg


contender 7 said...

Thank you for reading this trilogy for me, lol ... that's how good your review is! And, I love the podcast concept.

nessie said...

as usual contender 7, your on top of things.

Well, if not this series then I hope it propels you to read some other fantasy series.
The Wheel of Time comes highly recommended. ;)

contender 7 said...

Wheel Of Time? I'll get right on it, lol. Actually ... mmmm .... I'm about to start Book Six, right after I finish Book Five!

naida said...

great review, very detailed! I like your blog.

contender 7 said...

You amaze me.

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