Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Nora Roberts prefers to tell a tale these days in trilogy form. We observed this in The Chronicles of the One (Year One, Of Blood and Bone and The Rise of Magicks), a series that traced the developing life of a young girl into a warrior of considerable skill. To achieve her new status, she received instruction from a mystery man who assumed responsibility for her growth with the full agreement of her family. Not only did he teach a rebellious youth the concepts of fairness and honesty but also developed her physicality until she became a complete fighting force, a soldier who demonstrated leadership qualities that won her loyalty and, finally, victory. From these beginnings flowed The Chronicles of the One.
The current Dragonheart Series has reached the second volume. It differs, in overall terms, little from its predecessor. In Book One, The Awakening, a young woman flies to Ireland, discovers a parallel universe comprised of people who are relatives or become friends. They are in a constant state of war with an evil wizard. Breen trains under the harsh eye of leading soldier Keegan who, through lengthy painful sessions, turns her into a useful fighting force. Why the elite warriors in a civilization that is in all other respects modern, fight their wars with swords and bows and arrows while using magic for anything really sticky, is not addressed.
Book 2 of The Dragonheart Series is The Becoming, the present volume. It tells of Breen’s passing through a portal into a world that harbours magic, a welcoming world of a new family and an undreamed-of destiny. The view that Roberts can imagine more than most of us, and at a much higher level, is not disputed. But how well does this book stack up against books of similar nature and structure. For structure is at the centre of Robert’s universe. It is her greatest strength and, at the same time, an unquestionable weakness.
Consciously or not, Roberts builds her trilogies on the model of a river. Waterways begin as a minor trickle that encounters new sources of water that are fresh, sparkling, and active, eager to join with like sources to become, through union, a force of substance. In The Awakening we meet Breen and her gay friend Marco. We learn that Breen’s mother has been administering her daughter’s finances in an unjust way and we become acquainted with a group of friends that maintain a bond of loyalty with both Breen and Marco that appears inseverable. Each member is a unique individual and soon joins a host of new identities in Ireland. At this point, the friendships and Breen’s relationships with the enemies of her new universe are drawn with a finer pen. What will soon be a substantial body of water is a stable river engaged in constructing its course, albeit at a more sedate pace. Book 1 has identified its characters, drawn out their idiosyncrasies and, diverging from the river model, introduced two people, who fall in sex with one another.
By the time volume two appears, the story and the river are crawling along in tandem. The river has slowed as its great energy source struggles to keep the momentum flowing to the sea. Few streams now join the waterway. In like manner, the second volume of both Chronicles of the One and Dragonheart struggle to keep a freshly conceived storyline in motion. In The Becoming, the reader finds an enormity of dialogue, a mass of conversation that, at its best, tells the reader a little more about individual characters but fails to offer anything that is of any substance. Like the no longer fresh, and therefore interesting river, Book Two floats along, its contents a turgid swamp that has lost its way. In simple terms, the impression is that a trilogy’s length is beyond the author’s capabilities, and she has resorted to padding to complete what she regards is a suitable length. Just as one cannot stretch a river’s length, an author cannot extend a story beyond the content it possesses.
Nora Roberts’ solution to the inaction of Book 2 is to make a big issue of the normalcy of being homosexual. Marco is a human being who happens to be gay. He is rabidly sexual. That is fine whatever one’s sexual inclination. Breen and Keegan become lovers when their heterosexual attraction needs to be relieved. They are discreet and unashamed. Marco and his/her partner are no different. However, in their case, Roberts makes so much of suggestive dialogue that one wonders whether she is as comfortable with homosexuality as she would like us to believe.
Book Three of The Chronicles of the One was invigorating as the themes and characters that had lain somnolent in Book Two gathered momentum to reach a climax and make the purpose in writing the series in the first place, resolved. The river, correspondingly, is about to reach the sea, its goal from the time when it was a mere trickle. All that happens in the entire riverine system is directed to achieving this end. Book Three has clarity of goal and action, with the author, eventually laying down her pen amid the cheers of an audience that has, in the main, forgotten the struggles that accompanied Book 2.
Nora Roberts has been described (often) as a writing phenomenon. Given her publication record, I tend to agree. I have enjoyed the books written in her own name and as J.D. Robb. The Becoming describes her as, “Unputdownable, Unmissable, and Unforgettable”. I concur.
By Nora Roberts
Piatkus (Hachette UK)
$32.99; 346 pp