*I received an eARC of this book on Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review*
"Altaica" is the story of the inhabitants of a small village, who are forced to flee their homeland to save their lives. Their fates become intertwined with those of the clans of Altaica, a far-off land.
Do you think this will be an exciting and interesting journey? Think again.
In this novel, the plot happens in three separate moments: there’s the beginning of the book, with the escape scene, then the story disappears completely until roughly forty percent of “Altaica”, where things start happening again for a couple of chapters. Then the plot disappears again, rearing his head back out only during the last chapters of the novel.
For the rest of the time, the book drags.
Here’s the thing: it’s okay to write a character-driven book, even a character-driven fantasy book. But if you do, you’ve got to write compelling, three-dimensional characters.
There are no compelling, three-dimensional characters in this book. The only two characters that attempt to approach complexity are Elena and Vikram. Vikram is seen so little that he hardly even is a secondary character, so there's not much to say about him, other than I wish he'd been explored more, as he might have been a saving grace.
Elena is the wife of Curro. Curro is the best friend of our main character (I use the term loosely, as she is unconscious for a good chunk of the book) Isaura.
Elena is jealous of Isaura, because she thinks that she’s going to take Curro away from her. That makes her an awful, awful person, apparently. Despite the fact that she is not completely wrong. Curro does treat Elena and Isaura differently. Isaura is someone he cares about, but she’s first and foremost someone he trusts. He asks her for help, for advice, he’s taught her to defend herself in spite of that being forbidden. Curro treats Elena like a child, like someone he has to take care of. Not only does he never ask her for advice or for help, he’s the one calling all the shots in their relationship, he’s the one making all the choices, uncaring of what she thinks. And to make matters worse, Elena’s not stupid. In fact, she’s right a lot of the time, but does anyone listen to her? No. Caring first and foremost about herself and her loved ones an wanting to survive the journey apparently makes her an heartless bitch.
Elena is not allowed to be complex. She is constantly being relegated to the mean girl role. Almost none of the characters appear to be able to stand her, and they all treat her like an idiot. At one point they even say something along the lines of her having a dark aura.
Her storyline is supposed to show how jealousy corrupts her soul, but the way it’s handled lacks any kind of finesse, because too much emphasis is put on her faults, while her virtues are swept under the rug.
Isaura, our (kinda) main character is the biggest Mary Sue I have read about in years. Let's do a list of all the things she does, shall we? She is the only female who can handle weapons in her society, and the only one to have an active role in the plans for the escape of the villagers. She’s a skilled healer, which obviously implies training. But she also has the potential to wield huge magical powers and she can do things that ought to have been impossible. And she’s not even a grown woman yet, she’s described as a girl. I shudder at the thought of what she'll be capable of when she hits her thirties.
Also, of course, she never makes mistakes. And when she blames herself for something, someone else is always ready to point out that it’s really not her fault. She does make a controversial decision at one point in the book, which I appreciated as a brave move from the part of an author who has been playing things pretty safe, but it’s neither morally gray or a mistake. It’s either nothing wrong or something awful, depending on the point of view of the reader.
Lucia and Pio, while not exactly interesting, where not unlikable. I didn’t mind it when the story focused on them. Additionally, Nicanor and Lucia were the only couple whose romance I found believable. In general, the romances are not well-developped, and the characters who are not already together in the beginning of the novel fall madly in love with no transition whatsoever.
I think that some time must be spared to talk about the villain, since he was so cartoonishly evil that all he lacked was a mustache to twirl while he cackled.
He is introduced by entering a room and randomly attempting to rape a main character and it’s all downhill from there. He has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, no complexity. And that makes him uninteresting.
Almost all the characters could be summed up in a couple of words, and some of them are even completely devoid of character traits. For example, I wouldn't be able to name one personality aspect of Daniel, who is a character for a huge part of the novel and is part of one of the main romances.
The inclusion of the Asena, the deus-est-machina (not) wolves, was quite clumsy, as they only appear when they are needed by the story, they are never even mentioned beforehand, despite supposedly being a huge part of the culture of Altaica. If they had been built up better, I might have liked the Asena. I have no complains regarding the rest of world-building, which was alright if nothing particularly special and original.
Additionally, the POV keeps shifting from a character to another, without rhyme of reason (we even get the point of view of a horse at one point), which is annoying at best and confusing at worst.
To sum it up, this is not a good book. In fact, it’s a bad book, and it’s not even memorably bad, it’s boring bad. The kind of bad that means I’m already forgetting what the characters are called, the morning after I finished reading it. The positive aspects are few and far between.