Why Magic: the Gathering: The Cursed Land Sucked

I bought The Cursed Land by Teri McLaren, the newest Magic: the Gathering novel. I am not impressed. Here's the opening sentence from Chapter 2:

"An hour before a single gleaming ray of weak sunlight would shine through the pale gray sky to herald the vernal equinox, in the center of a frost-browned verge, on the village's holiest ground, a lone figure, tiredness tracing his rheumy eyes, his cheeks and mouth, stood listening to the last silence of winter."

Ye flipping gods. The way the parenthetical phrases divvy up, "his cheeks and mouth" are sort of left sitting by themselves unless the tiredness is supposed to be tracing them, but given the huge number of commas, you assume that "his cheeks and mouth" is separate from everything else (this is why I so rigidly believe in serial commas). "An hour before a single gleaming ray of weak sunlight would shine through the pale gray sky to herald the vernal equinox" is too long for a sentence, much less a dependent clause, and that's less than half the sentence. We don't even hit the subject of the sentence until over 30 words into it, and we have to plow through another too-long parenthetical phrase before finally stumbling across the verb.

Not every sentence is that bad, of course, but it's still pretty awful. On the second page, a character is talking in a paragraph. Within that same graf, another person starts speaking, but it's eleven lines before the author gets around to identifying who the new speaker is. It's confusing as hell because a new paragraph wasn't started, so you assume it's the same person, but the dialogue is such that it has to be a new person. This is only on page two, and I'm ready to throw this book across the room.

In Chapter 2, there's a twelve-line paragraph in italics, and McLaren doesn't even put in the "thought Logan" in Roman until the eleventh line, at which point it's irrelevant.

Viewpoints are shifted constantly without warning. Antecedents are maddeningly unclear. McLaren doesn't seem to like identifying people by name, preferring to use their position, except she doesn't give you adequate means to distinguish the characters, so you don't know who the hell's talking. Too much dependence on narration, not nearly enough on action.

Mind you, I'm only on page 54.

[First posted on the "Keith R.A. DeCandido [KEITH.D]" topic on Genie on 15 July 1995.]


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