Sunday, August 24, 2008

“The Scorpions Strike” by C.L. Talmadge

FROM THE BOOKCOVER:
Some people just need killing…

Will outspoken heroine Helen Andros and her newly reconciled father be the ones to die?

At the outset of Scorpions Strike, the two endure proscription and savage punishment by the powerful Temple of Kronos. Although both evade death for the time being, their struggles and dangers only grow worse.

Helen, under a Temple death mark, learns the basics of energy manipulation from Maguari the Mist-Weaver and, for the first time, uses her green stone to heal others. Meanwhile, her father’s political enemies hound him relentlessly, and a treacherous enemy plots his demise.

The Green Stone of Healing epic fantasy series chronicles four generations of strong-willed female characters and how government backing for exclusionary religious practices leads to the obliteration of an island nation called Azgard.
The Scorpions Strike is the third book in C.L. Talmadge’s Green Stone of Healing series. Billed as a fantasy, the novel does slide into SFnal territory with mention of airships, Gridbooks, skimmers and scanners. The novel is the personal story of Helen Andros, a half-breed healer set against a broader tale of political intrigue and religious extremism.

Helen is the illegitimate daughter of the Lord Protector, the right hand of the King. The Lord Protector finds himself facing trial for adultery and heresy before The Temple of Kronos, the religious institution that dominates the lives of the people of Azgard. The Temple is led by a religious zealot Ezekiel Malachi whose control of church doctrine ensures matters of racial purity are strictly enforced. Even the King cannot intervene in the events that follow.

Physical punishments fall upon both father and daughter; he is flogged and she is beaten. Helen is stripped of her healer credentials and placed under a Death Mark proclamation, a church jihad that permits church assassins to seek and kill Helen. Only recently reconciled, the Lord Protector uses his wealth and title to whisk Helen away to his home and lands to protect her. Much of the story that follows relates the machinations of Malachi and repeated attempts on Helen’s life.

Azgard society is depicted as a harsh quasi-Victorian hybrid with rigid rules of etiquette, class distinction (racial and gender), treatment of women as chattels and medieval style punishments (there are various instances of floggings, hangings, and drawing and quarterings). Against this bleak backdrop, Helen who has led a difficult life struggles to make the best of her almost hopeless situation.

Whether it was intentional to reflect this Victorian sensibility or not, I found much of the narrative and dialogue to be overly awkward and stilted, especially in the larger scenes involving the trial and government session debates. Even with repeated forays to the books Glossary, I also found it difficult to follow conversations due to the constant shifting of character naming conventions which included a mixture of titles, given names and familial relationships. These factors initially made it difficult to identify and empathize with characters.

Fortunately whenever the scope of the scenes scaled down to personal interactions between fewer characters, the narrative became much more intimate and engaging. Although Helen is the heroine of the story, her role in the course of events is mostly passive. The best moments occur as she explores her newly found talents with her healing stone under the tutelage of her guardian entity Maguari and one could have wished for more of these fantastical interludes.

There are many events and back story elements alluded to throughout the novel that suggests that the book would be best appreciated having read earlier volumes. The Afterword forewarns that Helen’s difficulties become even more desperate in the next installment. For more information about the series visit the authors website at www.greenstoneofhealing.com.

Browse the book here.

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