Emissary tells the story of Hyam, who up until his 21st birthday was a plain farmer’s son who enjoyed hunting. And that is all I could tell of who the guy was. He was dull and his emotional range appeared minimal to say the least.
Anyway, it’s his 21st birthday and it appears that he is not a regular human after all. He has powers. Powers which only manifest themselves at that specific age. Why? You tell me. Apparently it’s in his race. People turn 21 and boom – they get powers. Does that answer satisfy you? It sure didn’t please me.
When his mother dies he goes to tell his estranged father on some wizard school city place, since she begged that of him. When he first leaves his village to go on that trek we are told that he isn’t allowed to hunt. Why? You tell me.
So, very grudgingly, he arrives at the place where people were so mean to him, beating him senseless (Why? No clue.) to tell the man who abandoned him at a young age of his mother passing, except the guy is dead too.
So he gets there and talks to the place’s mistress. He refuses to accept what he is told about his heritage and to take the advice of this very smart old woman, who we are told Hyam instinctively knows is very clearly speaking the truth. However, it seems that he either doesn’t believe her or, if he does, he plans to do nothing about this new information. And then, when he develops the powers she said he would, he still refuses to follow her advice and go seek help from someone we can obviously tell is also trustworthy. Why? You guessed it! You tell me.
So there he is, very willingly practicing his awesome new powers in a secluded place. With mastery, I must point out – apparently just because he remembers some words in another language which he had learned years ago very grudgingly. How can someone who is now discovering they have powers control them like that? Again, feel free to tell me.
So he uses his powers with great skill, murders a bunch of people (bad guys, granted, but still people) and doesn’t seem to feel a thing. Now I would like to think he had never murdered anyone up to that point, so yes, I would have expected a bit of emotion there.
He takes one of the bad guys’ treasures and his horse and goes on his merry way, making plans to visit a very special city. And here I must note that, for someone who is so reluctant to go on this so called quest, he sure gives away the only home he knew rather quickly.
When he gets a supposedly extremely smart dog as his companion, you’d hope there would be room for some creative interaction here but nope, he just travels by the mutt’s side, neither uttering a sound (Crazy as it seems, not exploring this relationship was one of the things about the book which upset me the most. I mean, seriously. A super smart part wolf-part dog-part something else which name I cannot recall who is usually destined for royalty? Such a waste…).
Both the wolfhound and the horse Hyam got by murdering its owner (call me petty but considering how Hyam got it I never considered it his horse) seem to grow instantly attached to Hyam and give him their complete loyalty. Why? Uh… Right.
We are fed a lot of information too quickly about all the races and can tell how not all of it is accurate, although not why or how or which parts. So while reading I kept thinking ok hmm we are going on this assumption but it’s probably wrong.
Then the voice changes and we are introduced to Joelle. I immediately thought uh oh… Feisty girl with similar background of being a prisoner and not belonging, a couple years younger than main character, similar wizard powers… I smell forced romance. And was spot on. From the moment Hyam sets eyes on her he is smitten with her, solely due to the fact that she is a prisoner in a Long Hall just as he was. He smashes through the place cause he is almighty and stuff, and gets her. From the moment he meets her face to face till they get married what, a week after they met? – there is literally no clue that they fell in love with each other (as if possible), only that there was a moment of intense physical attraction. I would have had much more respect for the author and the story had he made them develop a kindred sibling relationship. If the rest of the book felt out of context then this bit right here takes it to a whole new level.
Moving back a bit, his role of emissary is explained, bestowed and accepted by him in a manner that made me think Huh? That’s it?
Even though he is guaranteed protection, he is apparently abandoned. Why he wasn’t helped, as promised, after things died down beats me.
And I will stop specifying what happens in the book now; it’s pretty pointless given the book’s length, and as a rule I don’t appreciate doing this at all, as I prefer the reader to discover things as they unfold.
However, in this case I felt this introduction was required to make it very clear that, as I was following Hyam around, I was left with this hollow and confused feeling of not knowing why things happened and why the narrative developed the way it did, and this was something that accompanied me throughout the book. There were no clues that I could refer to thinking oh so that’s why that happened until pretty much the end of the book, and by then it was too late.
Take the main character. Hyam starts off as a sort of ornery type who has never come to terms with his past and refuses to deal with the information given to him about his heritage. However, over the course of the book, I sometimes felt I was reading about a guy in his 40s, one who had suddenly gained all sort of moral values and a self-confidence and bravery that I had not seen before nor realized where it came from.
We are told that he had barely stepped out of his village all his life, certainly not very far, and suddenly he is giving orders left and right, owning all the places he visits, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to him, and having all sorts of people pledging alliance to him. All the crazy easy magery that happens is justified by the fact that he is, apparently, someone really, really special. Now while plenty of people may be happy with that explanation, especially because of the interesting world creating, to me it just felt extremely forced and overly simplistic. Not to mention extremely convenient.
I simply could not feel involved in the narrative nor relate to the any of the characters, the main one in the least. Whatever chance there were for bonding between characters was obliterated. The plot lacked direction for at least 3/4 of the book, nothing felt natural. Reading Emissary made me feel like I was watching a board game unfold. Ok, main character is here, so I am going to move hiiiim…. Here. Yep, sounds good. Now, this happens. And now let me move him to another square in… this direction seems good! The action never felt progressive. I felt that one minute I was in a place and then in another with no transition. I wasn’t in the story, I could not feel what the characters were feeling nor was I particularly interested in knowing what came next. I was actually more curious to see if the dog would do anything interesting.
In a nutshell, all the focus of this book is clearly on the world building, completely deterring character and plot development. Things happened not because they make sense but because it was convenient to where the author wanted the book to go. Yes, there are good things, particularly towards the end of the book, but not nearly enough to make it one worth reading, in my opinion.
It did start to pick up a bit on the last third or so – at least we were finally getting some explanations and some sense of direction – although even then things which could have had tremendous impact were given miserable treatment/null development/utterly rushed) and the hidden for a thousand years line got SO freaking old. But you know what? Whatever was mildly enjoyable came too late. By that point, the book had succeeded in almost completely losing me, because I had been fed piles and piles of descriptions about the places Hyam and the others visited and, well, that was about it. I kept trying to hold on to the plot, to why certain things were happening or to even remember aspects that seemed important. But I just couldn’t get a grip on the narrative because the situations were presented out of the blue, events unfolded with no clues whatsoever to get the reader to arrive to those conclusions by him or herself until it was too late to enjoy; stuff was just planted.
I cannot tell if this negative experience is due to me not being a native English speaker, the progressively archaic, sometimes even presumptuous, writing or because my mind kept wandering, since nothing there told seemed to interest me and I could not relate, but the fact is after a while, against all desire to just give up, I just trudged on and, for the most part, it was not a very pleasant experience. And then things became so predictable and disappointing, especially the romance bit, that I felt like reading this book was a huge waste of time.
In conclusion, Emissary has pretty close to spectacular world building, but without a plot that makes sense, that allows me to connect the dots, is overall well developed and keeps me interested along the way; without characters who have their own personalities, whose relationships are clearly developed, and with whom I can relate in the least – then it just becomes a travel book of beautiful sceneries which I would love to visit someday.
The extra star is for the ending, which thoroughly surprised me.
Read from February 19 to 24, 2015
I would like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.