I’m coming quite late to the fantasy-with-an-eastern-flavour market, and Nicholson seems to be dipping his feet in those waters. A community of monks with mysterious superpowers called the Nomana live on an island, going around the world doing good works. Only they’re not very good at it, because a huge empire exists nearby where they imprison people on petty charges or simply abduct them in order to throw them off the top of a cliff as a sacrifice to their Sun god, a ritual performed every single day. Seeker is a boy of 16 whose brother is one of these Noma monks, but he is destined to become a scholar, because that is what his father wants. Secretly, though, he yearns to join the Nomana. After hearing a mysterious plot-driving voice, he goes into the monks’ inner sanctum and witnesses his brother being brainwashed, then overhears the monks talking about a secret weapon in the nearby empire that will destroy the island. When his brother is cast out and he is rejected as a novice, he joins two other rejected youths – the sarcastic, incredibly irritating
Not a bad set-up. Trouble is, it’s such a mess! Too much happens too quickly, and the climax is a deeply unsatisfying shambles. The characters are dulls I didn’t care for one of them except perhaps everyman Seeker. The world we’re introduced to is very flawed (what, the Noma don’t care about this evil empire of murderers until they’re threatened? Okay, I can just about swallow that, with monks wanting to keep themselves to themselves, but if it’s as easy for the empire to be brought down as it obviously was, why hasn’t it been done before by dozens of others?). Plot strands just get abandoned – Nicholson seems to have a complex about kids having to conform in schools, given Seeker’s story and The Wind Singer’s opening, but the concept never really gets tied up – just conveniently dismissed at the end. Various reprehensible things are seemingly condoned (also a problem I had with Firesong), from a girl making a vulnerable woman love her as a daughter and then totally destroying her psychologically, merely because she’s a product of her deluded society and thus wicked enough to suffer, to a woman abandoning her husband and child because she’s a bit of a manic depressive and hears voices. The driving antagonistic force of mysterious unseen psychic figures is lazy, and when the ending comes and you realise that the whole conclusion would have happened in much the same way with or without the story we followed, it’s annoying. For Nicholson to THEN have the audacity to try and engineer a meaningless twist in which it was all orchestrated and the kids were being protected despite all of them being in a position where no-one could have stopped them dying more than once (one of them actually got abducted) was extremely irksome.
Peculiar, though, that there was no romantic spark whatsoever between the lead female and the boys, but the two of them were often found to be huddling together in the cold, throwing themselves into one another’s arms, one being described as ‘beautiful’ and the other as ‘babyfaced’…almost like he knows the fantasy audience well!
Not to say it wasn’t a good page-turner or an enjoyable read. It was fun in places, but as a story, poor. I don’t particularly feel like reading book two, but then, I felt that way after The Wind Singer, too…so I probably will.