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To Ride Hell’s Chasm, Janny Wurts

I read this book as part of a Green Dragon group read over on LibraryThing. I probably would not have read it on my own, and I certainly would not have finished it on my own.

The story begins with the fact that Princess Anja has fled, even though she was just about to be betrothed to a man that she loved very much. Thus, a search for her ensues, and focuses mostly on Mykkael, captain of the garrison, a man of a different race from everyone else, and the target of a great deal of prejudice. One other thing that the author, Janny Wurts, makes clear is the sacrifice of horses for men and women in such dangerous situations, but to reveal how would give away a great deal of the story.

One problem with this book is that the writing is almost impenetrable. Wurts likes to use words in strange ways not common to conversational English. I generally like books with very dense prose and lots of description, but this is not what happens in Chasm. The grammar is just awkward. In a conversation on the Green Dragon forums, the author said that she specifically chooses words and forms of words for their meanings, and everything is there for a reason. If this is the case, most of it was lost on me, and a great deal of the first half of the book went over my head because I just couldn’t keep my mind on the pages. Here’s an example:

“Mykkael sat on the settle. At home enough to push back his hood, he washed the suet and blood from his hands in the basin fetched by the poacher’s tongue-tied little daughter. He did not press with questions. A rare man for respect, he stifled his need and waited for Benj to order his thoughts” (p. 135).

Or:

“Mykkael took up the stained cloth in scalding distaste; pulled it over his head, not missing the artful subtlety” (p. 182).

It feels awkward and uncomfortable to read, and this phrasing goes on throughout the book.

That is really my main complaint though. The character of Mykkael is very charismatic, but at the same time very unrealistic. He’s literally perfect. He holds his honor above all and doesn’t much care if he dies, as long as he’s serving his oaths. He always comes up with a solution and he predicts everything that happens. He’s been through the same situation before, but I doubt any enemy is that predictable to begin with. He is virtually invincible. That just annoys me.

The story is okay though. It’s interesting, and the concept of going beyond racial prejudice to judge on merit is a prominent and important one that has presence in our society today. The characters in the book had other reasons to attempt to turn people against Mykkael, but his different race was a major factor. It was nice for that to be overcome. The magic system needed to be explained more, rather than just existing without any display of how precisely the system of sorcerers works. Basic magic is understandable, but not the underlying concepts.

There’s also a little bit of unnecessary romantic drama thrown in towards the end. It irritated me because it was unrealistic and served no purpose other than existing. I think it may have been intended to make the book more moving, but personally I’d have preferred Mykkael to stick with his first love.

There isn’t much I did like about this book. If I was reading on my own, I would probably have stopped after 100 pages, when I learned that the frustrating prose continued and the story didn’t go far. I was moved by the last 100 pages, but overall it wasn’t worth the slow, time-consuming experience of the rest of the book.

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1 comment to To Ride Hell’s Chasm, Janny Wurts

  • I know this is really old, but I had to read your review when I saw a link to it on the LibraryThing Authors meme! I felt much the same about this book, except I did abandon it after a hundred pages. I found the author’s strange syntax and awkward word choices WAY too difficult to wade through. I’d have liked to have joined in the discussion about it, but my opinions were all so strongly negative that I felt awkward doing so with the author involved.