Allen and Unwin
Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
Legacy is a moderately good novel, the first volume in a trilogy which appears set to follow the adventures of Princess Alera. Although the back of the novel talks about Alera’s quest to find her own voice, she seems fairly passive to me, rarely expressing an opinion even on something as important as her marriage.
And marriage is looming for Alera. She is seventeen, and on her eighteenth birthday she will be expected to marry. She and her husband will then be crowned King and Queen; he will rule and she will look pretty, keep her mouth shut, and have babies. Her father is intent on seeing Alera wed to Steldor, a young military commander. Steldor appears to have all the qualities her father wants in a King – military training and as much experience as you get in peace time, son of the current military commander, a decent amount of money, and presentable. Alera hates him, finding him arrogant and a bully. But not ONCE does she suggest an alternative to her father, simply pouting and saying, “I don’t want to marry him,” while thinking of plenty of alternatives and assuming her father would reject them, without asking.
So a large part of the story is that of Steldor attempting to court Alera, and Alera trying to avoid the courting while simultaneously playing along with it at strategically stupid moments. At the same time, Alera begins to spend time with Narian. Initially thought to be a Cokyrian, the long standing enemies of Alera’s land (Hytanica), Narian turns out to be the long lost son of a noble close to the throne. Naturally, a reunion with his family isn’t as straightforward as he might have hoped. Alera finds herself drawn to Narian, and as a result paying attention to a number of intrigues that might otherwise have passed her by.
The primary weakness with Legacy is that all of the characters are so one-dimensional. Initially, I interpreted this as childishness (within the characters), especially when I considered the lead, Princess Alera. However, as the novel progressed it became clear that there was no depth at all to any of the characters. Alera, for example, seems only to exist when she is required for the action. She has no royal duties until late in the novel when she gets to plan a few parties. She has no friends. She has no pastimes. Despite this vacancy, she only seems to spend time with her sister when they need to have a conversation to move the plot along. There was nothing to get hold of with this character. The same applied to any other character I turned my attention to – there was a surface gloss to differentiate them, but none came with any depth.
Fortunately, the plot, while not particularly original or deep, was interesting enough to keep me reading. This is the first of a trilogy, and so very little was actually resolved. The difficulty is that while I am mildly interested in how the plot will play out, the flat characters mean I’m not that engaged with the story overall. Kluver will have to work hard to get me to pick up the second volume.
A further weakness was that the further the novel progresses, the more shallow the worldbuilding and background becomes. Kluver provides lovely descriptions of her heroine’s clothes (although I suspect she’s mixed a few historical periods together, it doesn’t really matter, this being fantasy). However, her grasp on major set pieces is much shakier. When conflict comes, for example, there appears to be no real army (despite the many years of war previously) and no real grasp of how to prepare; within one day the capital is besieged and every person outside the city slaughtered. This had me sputtering with incredulity – geography, history, military reality, and in fact just plain commonsense seemed to be jettisoned at this point in the novel. Kluver pretty much lost me here.
This does seem to be the sort of novel that gets left in the wasteland a little; it’s not being marketed as either specifically young adult or adult fiction, presumably hoping to garner readers from both markets. To some extent this may work with this first volume; however, I think most older and more experienced readers will discard this in favour of something with more depth. Younger readers may find the plot sufficiently interesting to overlook the flat characters, but I’m not sure that they’ll care enough about the characters to want to read more.
Legacy is a first novel, and the bio at the back indicates that Kluver was fifteen when this was first published. In light of that, it’s a good achievement, and with more experience Kluver may well blossom. This was a pretty good book, just not a great one or a particularly memorable one. Although a little flowery at times, it was well written and kept me reading for quite a while before I became restless at the lack of character development and other problems.