Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blaggard’s Moon

Title: Blaggard’s Moon

Series: Prequel to the Trophy Chase Trilogy

Author: George Bryan Polivka

Genre: Adult High-Seas Adventure

Excerpt from “Onka Din Botlay,” Chapter 1 of Blaggard’s Moon:

“On a post. In a pond.”

Delaney said the words aloud, not because anyone could hear him but because the words needed saying. He wished his small declaration could create a bit of sympathy from a crewmate, or a native, or even one of the cutthroats who had left him here. But he was alone.

It wasn’t the post to which he’d been abandoned that troubled him, though it was troubling enough. The post was worn and unsteady, about eight inches across at the top where his behind was perched, and it jutted eight feet or so up from the still water below him. His shins hugged its pocked and ragged sides; his feet were knotted at the ankles behind him for balance. Delaney was a sailor, and this was not much different than dock posts in port where he’d sat many times to take his lunch. He was young enough not to be troubled with a little pain in the backside, old enough to have felt his share of it. No, the post wasn’t the problem.

The pond from which the post jutted was not terribly troublesome either. It was a lagoon, really, less than a hundred yards across, no more than fifty yards to shore in any direction. He could swim that distance easily. He peered down through the water, past its smooth, still surface, and eyed the silver-green flash of scales, lit bright by the noonday sun.

The piranha, now, they were somewhat vexing.

A pirate contemplates a tale of romance, betrayal, and battle while waiting his own impending death.

The Craft: To spin a great yarn is no easy task.

You must be able to capture the imagination and attention within a few words of the beginning of the story; fabricate a detailed world you can see; create sympathetic heroes that are complex, believable, and motivated with that special twist which will make the reader cheer them onto the end; design villains worth hating yet who act in a way that the evil is understandable on some level; weave a plot that is intriguing and mysterious but not confusing, full of tension but properly paced with lulls and breathers; and finally bring every element and subplot together in a driving climax and satisfying resolution. And if this wasn’t enough, all this must be accomplished in a way that is lyrical, vivid, easy to read, clear and concise with a memorable voice and a smooth technique that never yanks the reader out of the storyworld, but without redundancies, head-hopping or other mechanical errors. Easy enough, right?

So is it any wonder that many books are only “fair” when it comes to the craft? Consider Blaggard’s Moon.

The beginning captures the attention, like most life-and-death situations, and intrigues us because a pirate has been sentenced to a horrific death by his own pirate crew: What could he have done to warrant all this?

But there’s a problem. These opening events are so close to the story’s end in the timeline that it requires multiple jumps back in time which occupy most of the story. The result is lost tension. We know the end to which we are headed and the immediate problem loses its immediacy.

Likewise, all the characters (both villains and heroes) are complex, believable, and motivated. But the connection is missing. To whom should I attach my emotions and staunchly cheer for? The “main” character Delaney doesn’t feature in three-quarters of the book, making him more a narrator than a protagonist. Damrick, the “hero” of the story being told, does the right things for the wrong reasons it seems, often marked by self-preservation, anger, mercilessness, and vengeance-type attitudes. Jenta, the heroine, isn’t proactive enough, being driven by the story rather driving it. And the other characters I might attach to either play a short, minor role or do the wrong things for the right reasons.

The plotting is strong, with plenty of twists and complexities as two or three layers of story play out simultaneously. And I commend Mr. Polivka in this: with all those different stories going on, time jumps and character jumps, he does a masterful job of keeping your place clear in time and space.

Nonetheless, a jump is a jump, no matter how well done, and there were so many in this story that I was often yanked out of the detailed world Mr. Polivka created so well. These simultaneous storylines also caused multiple climaxes that diffused the tension and dissolved some of the end’s satisfaction. Delaney’s story almost seemed anticlimactic.

The overall result is a story that is intriguing and complex with a delightful storyteller’s voice, but that fails to connect in the ways that give story its greatest power.

The Content: The themes winding through Blaggard’s Moon are interesting. The most prominent one is the consequences of actions/reaping what you sow, with close ties to learning to live in a way so as to die without regrets. Unfortunately, that is a tricky combination, as sometimes it can appear on the surface that the consequences of doing good is pain and evil, and therefore doing good is pointless. For as Solomon observed in Ecclesiastes 9:3, “This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun: the same destiny overtakes all.”

While Mr. Polivka does a fairly good job of keeping the relationship between the two themes balanced, it casts a dark shadow across the pages, as at times it feels like evil is stronger than good and will win in the end.

Other things to note: Since this is a pirate/high-seas adventure, violence, drinking, smoking, and gambling are all found in these pages. The violence is generally given a light touch, frequently occurring off-stage, and the most graphic scenes tend to be mass, battle scenes. The other elements simply exist as facts of the world created and aren’t dwelt upon.

Summary: Blaggard’s Moon has its minus and pluses, both in craft and content. An interesting tale with a great storyteller’s voice, this novel will probably be enjoyable to most high-seas adventure fans. However, I recommend that those under thirteen and readers who tend toward a cynical view of life to avoid this book.

Rating: Craft—2, Content—3, Overall—3.1 out of 5 stars

See my review for The Legend of the Firefish and my additional thoughts on this book; or buy Blaggard's Moon.


Brandon Barr said...

Hi Chawna,
It's amazing how two people can come away from a book with such different feelings. I found this book to be one of my favorites.

R.P.H said...

Hey'a Chawna,
I also thought Blaggard's Moon was just OK, not bad, just OK. I agree with you on a lot you say in your post. The different stories jumping in and out was a little confusing at times.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

The only times I got confused were when the pirates interrupted Ham telling his story. I'd be so engrossed in the tale, I didn't notice the break and thought the line of dialogue belonged to one of the pirates who were part of the Jenta/Damrick thread.

I also wasn't troubled by any loss of tension. In fact, I was amazed that I felt the tension surrounding Delaney growing even though he was still on the post.

As far as connecting with the characters, I did connect with Jenta fairly quickly, but I thought she wasn't in the story enough at the beginning. So, yes, I had some pages there that I read without a character to really root for.

As to the spiritual aspects, I think if you've read the Trophy Chase Trilogy, you have a context to put the violence and the themes. I think Polivka was absolutely saying sometimes doing good results in "getting whammed." That's what makes choosing hard. It's taking up your cross, not taking up your crown, and following Jesus. But in the end, I thought he made it clear that taking up the cross is the better way, even if it means dying.


Chawna Schroeder said...

As I tried to make clear in my post, but perhaps failed to do, Blaggard's Moon isn't a bad book. It has some wonderful things--complex character, fast-paced plot, detailed world, and a masterful storyteller's voice.

But it lacked for me that last piece to move it from a just okay, an-enjoyable-one-time-read book to "I love this story and can't wait to tell everyone about it" book, probably largely because of the characters for the reasons I stated in my post: I like Delaney, but he's not the focus of the plot and therefore cannot carry it. Jenta is too passive. I couldn't connect with Damrick.

As for the content, I didn't want to bring in Trophy Chase because Blaggard's Moon can stand alone and might be read first or on its own. So I wanted to review it as such. And yes, overall Mr. Polivka made clear what you stated. I just wanted to note the duel themes could pose confusion to some readers.