Friday, October 15, 2010

Summa Elvetica

Title: Summa Elvetica: A Casuistry of the Elvish Controversy

Series: Stand-alone

Author: Theodore Beale

Genre: Adult Fantasy

Excerpt from “Prooemium” of Summa Elvetica:

Marcus Valerius looked up from the faded Numidican manuscript in irritation.

The light from the study window was growing dim. Already he’d been forced to light a candle in order to make out the obscure scratchings of the historian Quintus the Elder, whose colorful accounts of his encounters with the pagan desert tribes were as dubious as they were vivid. The imperative knocking at the door threatened a lengthy interruption, one that might cost Marcus what little daylight remained.

“Come in,” he called, resigned.

The latch creaked, and a familiar, sun-bronzed face peered around the corner of the door. It belonged to his cousin Sextus, whose brown eyes were dancing with mischief.

“This better be good,” Marcus warned him. “I was just getting to the part where the tribal chief is about to sacrifice the centurion to his devil-gods.”

The church inquires into whether Elves have souls.

Craft: Summa Elvetica is not your typical fantasy. After all, mixing theological debates with a world of elves and other non-humans is bound to create a strange breed.

The premise is really quite simple: Would elves and the other races that populate most fantasy novels be considered as having souls by the church? And though simple-sounding, it is a premise rife with possibility. Unfortunately, not all the possibilities are utilized and the result left me disappointed.

For while the story is thought-provoking and characters colorful, Summa Elvetica lacks the oomph of…well, story. Missing a solid core of conflict and high stakes for the main character, the book reads more like a loosely-tied together collection of stories and the plot plods along at a pace at which it is easy for the mind to wander. In short, I fail to have a vested interest into the outcome, and as a result the tension is low.

Nonetheless, despite this unorthodox style and the resulting problems, the story manages some cohesiveness mixed in with some humorous and entertaining bits.

Content: Unorthodox in style, Summa Elvetica is also unusual in content, lacking the pull of a strong character arc. Yes, the theological debates are interesting, but they also seem to have little relevance to my day-to-day world. I’m sure I’m missing something significant, but I fail to see what it is at the moment, perhaps due to the lack of investment and strong character arcs.

For other notes, the magic is rebuked as evil, and violence handled with a light touch.

Summary: Thought-provoking but plot-weak, Summa Elvetica is not probably for most readers. However, it does contain some interesting content and entertaining vignettes. So if you like theological debates or the intellectually provocative, this book might be for you.

Ratings: Craft—2, Content—3, Overall—2.9 out of 5 stars

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