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Dark Star Rising

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Success Stories

by Robert E Clark


ISBN 0 9689382 7 2
Published by Standmar, 2003
632pp, paperback
Retail price

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

I'll say it again - it's a source of great puzzlement to me that so many small independent publishers allow their product to be distinguishable from the output of the major publishing houses by something so easy to correct as the misuse of the apostrophe. Maybe Standmar Publishing (which, to be fair, is very new to this game) can have a word with its (not "it's") proof-reader and try to eliminate this basic error from future publications. It might not matter to some of their readers, but it matters to the literate amongst us. There, that's got that out of my system.

Let's get on with the review. Dark Star Rising is genre fiction, the genre in question being fantasy. I tend to think that, in order to make it big-time in this genre, the author needs not only imagination but considerable originality. There are just too many of them out there. That is, of course, why some fantasy authors have to resort to self-publishing or go to someone sympathetic, like Andy Straisfeld of Canada-based Standmar. If you think as I do, then you don't really care whether something is breathtakingly different or even whether it's a masterpiece of English literature, as long as it's good of its kind. And I'm happy to say that Dark Star Rising, if not quite Tolkien, is perfectly adequate as a fantasy novel. I'll go so far as to say that I enjoyed it.

Okay, so the characters aren't exactly rounded. You've got your witch-temptress, your ruthless psychopath, your charming scoundrel, your noble but basically lazy king and your all-round decent, conscientious city guard who gets led astray. What I liked, right from the beginning, was the way no one was what they initially appeared to be, and the roles kept switching. Every time I thought I had it all worked out, someone I had thought central to the action would be killed off. I was less convinced by the way all the characters seemed capable of spying on others without detection, whilst simultaneously being themselves spied upon undetected, sometimes by those same people. It may have been intended as an irony, but it didn't quite work for me. Neither did the relationship between Weasel and Mara; the love-hate formula is almost fundamental to a story of this kind, but the soul-searching stage arrives with alarming rapidity. After this, Mr Clark has to struggle to stop things getting out of hand, and glosses neatly over the lengthy period spent together in the same prison cell; apparently, nothing happened in there apart from the occasional delivery of a meal.

The style, though occasionally redundant -- and, in a novel of 632 pages, maybe the odd clumsiness can be forgiven -- is pacy enough, and the story moves forward with an effortless momentum despite the characters' sometimes illogical actions. Why arrange to meet at a certain time and place for a discussion when you could easily exchange the necessary information on the spot? And why does Mara, an experienced sign-reader, find it so difficult to recognise impending disaster?

The spotlight is continually transferred from one set of characters to another, keeping up the suspense effectively; and, despite the plethora of exotically-named characters and somewhat random distribution of elapsed time, it is never difficult to follow. However, it was a source of regret that none of Mr Clark's fantasy kingdoms had the benefit of a sensible female ruler to keep them out of trouble. The one near-exception, Calanda, despite having led an army with considerable success in one chapter, suddenly reverts to the role of weak and feeble woman when presented with the next crisis.

I must comment that, if there was a competition for cover designs, this one would be a contender for the wooden spoon. The atmospheric, almost-monochrome background might have worked if it were not for the amateurish drawing of ... whatever it is ... in the foreground. The typesetting in my advance copy was also sub-standard, with lots of mis-aligned paragraphs and some missing lines. Notwithstanding these distractions, I can genuinely say that I wasn't tempted to skip to the end. And the ending, when it came, was not entirely predictable. I look forward with some eagerness to the next instalment in the "Saga of the family Anaxar".