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Convergence, first of five volumes in a series called the Blending, by Sharon Green
Review by Larry HomerMagic comes in five aspects. Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and Spirit. Sharon Green establishes it right away (yes, on the first page of text following the title page, dedication, etc.) that three hundred years ago this great Empire was freed from the long-running tyranny of the Four by the brilliant heroism of the Five. The Four were High-level in Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, and Blended their talents together to be an unstoppable force that ran roughshod over any obstacle, but were fortunately unaware of the importance of Spirit magic to a well-balanced breakfast, er, I mean a well-balanced high-powered Blending, as was everyone else in the Empire for that matter. As a result, the first Blending of Five was able to gang up on them and successfully overthrow the old government and put in a better one. Ever since then, there have been competitions every 25 years which can only be won by five people who have managed to successfully form a Blending that can take on any other and triumph. It's winner-take-all - the five-person team that wins the championship becomes the supreme rulers of the Empire for the next 25 years, at which time they must step aside for their successors. (What happens if one or more of the five-person team ends up dying before the 25-year-term is up? It doesn't say, not in this volume anyway.)
When they laid down new laws for the Empire, the First Five also delivered a Prophecy to the effect that someday the Dreaded Four would come again to threaten the world, and of course a Chosen Five would need to arise as humanity's only hope of defeating the Four, as had their predecessors. So far so good. Now, on the back of the paperback it names the five central characters of this series and mentions each one's specialty. Each is strong in a different one of the five aspects, and they're all strangers to one another as we start, but all about to be tested in the grand competition that's coming up. I have the strangest feeling I know where this is going . . .
What I didn't anticipate was how long it will take to get there! You see, Green apparently figured that since she was featuring five characters in equally important roles, and since she was going to keep emphasizing that number Five by stretching the series out to five books, then she ought to give us several of the more interesting scenes five times each! That last bit was, I admit, a very original approach to this sort of story. I wonder why other writers doing such books never thought of that before in order to show us that all the major characters were equally important? Maybe because they had a sense of shame?
Chapter One: We first meet Lorand Coll, Earth Magic. Nice typical even-tempered farmboy. We learn some stuff about his family life that I'll spare you. Then we see him and a friend (also Earth Magic, both of them already ranked as being at least Middle by local authorities) waiting in town for the coach that will start them on their way to the imperial capital for testing to see if they qualify as Highs. (Just about everyone has some sort of magical talent it seems - either Low, Middle, or High. As you might guess, Highs are rare.) All of a sudden this huge fireball is speeding through the air toward them! Lorand manages to extinguish it by raising a whirlwind of dirt that snuffs out every spark.
Chapter Two: We first meet Jovvi Hafford, Spirit Magic. Professional courtesan. While she's waiting for the coach to take her to the big city, this huge fireball comes speeding through the air . . . but she manages to stop it cold with a wall of Spirit Magic. Please don't ask me how this works. Apparently she can project a sense of peace and quiet that calms down a mystic blaze as surely as it calms down a rowdy customer????
Chapter Three: We first meet Clarion Mardimil, Air Magic. Spoiled young nobleman. Incredibly spoiled, and very naive about his fellow human beings, possibly due to the way his Mommy has spoiled and sheltered him to a ridiculous degree. As he's waiting for the coach, a huge fireball . . .
Chapter Four: Tamrissa Domon, Fire Magic. Beautiful young woman, recently widowed after her rich old abusive husband (an arranged marriage - her father arranged it for financial gain) finally kicked the bucket. She already lives in the big city, so she doesn't need to wait for a coach, but as she's walking around outdoors, this huge fireball . . .
Chapter Five: Vallant Ro, Water Magic. Captain of one of the fleet of merchant ships owned by his family, i.e. he's rich. As he's waiting for the coach . . . can you guess the rest?
You can? Good! In that case, we've just covered the first 51 pages of the book! Chapter 6 takes us back to the beginning of the cycle, as we see Lorand Coll (Earth) arriving in the big city (called Gan Garee, which makes me think of gangrene for some reason) and undergoing his first test of strength and skill in his aspect. As the chapter ends, it looks like he's about to die in an enclosed testing room if he doesn't find a new tactic soon. Chapter 7 shows us Jovvi Hafford arriving, starting her first test, ending on a perilous cliffhanger. Chapter 8 shows us Clarion . . .
Chapters 11-15, unsurprisingly, show each of the five devising a new tactic for getting out of the deathtrap they seemed to be in when last heard from, exiting their testing rooms, being told they have passed with flying colors (only the first test of many, however), and all head to their lodgings for a bath after all the sweating, etc., that they did in that nerve-wracking test. Naturally, the four from other towns have all been assigned quarters in Tamrissa's house (she volunteered its use) and naturally they all bump into each other as they compete for the use of the bathhouse. Green spares us no detail of the various conversations they have. To make sure we get the full effect, she shows us every line of dialogue in the first meetings of our various heroes at Tamrissa's place at least twice, in different chapters. If Clarion and Lorand compare notes on how they feel about being legally obligated to take this test, we get to read the complete conversation twice, once from each guy's viewpoint! If a man unexpectedly gets a look at a naked woman in this co-ed bathhouse (and vice versa, in one case), we get to see in excruciating detail both how the man feels about it and how the woman feels about it! This particular plot twist happens twice, with two different couples, so we get a total of four descriptions of how various people feel about ogling/being-ogled-by members of the opposite sex. All this attention to detail has used 171 pages in 15 chapters that felt more like three chapters, five times each!
By now we can already see the writing on the wall. Vallant will mate with Tamrissa. Lorand will mate with Jovvi. Clarion remains unaccounted for, but I'm sure Green will find something for him too. In a later scene, all the guys who are staying in Tamrissa's house (Lorand, Clarion, Vallant, plus various others) end up heading to a house of ill repute to spend drink booze and spend some cash on, er, loose women. Must be one of those classic male bonding strategies I've heard so much about. Complete with the obligatory drunken brawl . . . not that it amounted to much.
I admit that Green eventually tired of this bit of showing us every single conversation between members of the five from each participant's point of view in separate chapters. Even so, the story was crawling along at a snail's pace all through this first volume. And to make it even worse, the writing wasn't particularly good. Sometimes it was almost embarrassing just to be reading some of the pithy dialogue. If I had bought this in a bookstore I would feel swindled. Fortunately, I checked it out from the library instead. Incidentally, the competition is fixed. For at least a hundred years now, it's always been a team of five gathered from various noble families that takes the grand prize, and we see a couple of scenes with nobles plotting how to make sure that this proud tradition continues and the sacred status quo rests undisturbed . . . but we know better than to think it will work out for them this time around. Meanwhile, as the book ends, the five key characters haven't even figured out that they will all end up as close friends knitted together in one magnificent Blending, something we knew as soon as we read the front and back covers of the book! As I said . . . slow development.
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