a review by Nalini Haynes
Trinity Rising is the second book in a quartet by Elspeth Cooper that began with Songs of the Earth. Songs of the Earth was nominated for a Morningstar Award, which “celebrate[s] the newcomers to the fantasy genre, whose first book published in English.” I reviewed Songs of the Earth; if you haven’t read Songs I recommend reading that review, not this one.
WARNING: triggers such as rape
Elspeth warned me Trinity Rising had a different feel to Songs of the Earth, and man was she right! Songs felt much more like a traditional fantasy story, with familiar elements woven together well in a manner appealling to fans of Tolkien, the Belgariad, Sword of Shannarah and more. In contrast, Trinity got down into the mud and excrement for which humanity is so well known. The first third of Trinity runs parallel to Songs, following characters who, to my frustration, walked off stage in Songs. I was very pleased to see what they’ve been doing. Readers follow characters such as Duncan and his band who hunt the Hounds of the Wild Hunt. We see more of the nomadic tribes who remind me of American Indians or Monguls riding the Steppes. We even follow Savin, the truest villain of the story. About one third of the way through Trinity, the narrative ventures past where Songs ended, returning to Gair as a point of view character once more whilst still following the others.
Blind ambition coupled with a thirst for revenge motivates some to foolish action. International politics pitted against what the worldly-wise perceive as outmoded superstition put the world at further risk. Internal church politics incites factional sparring while elsewhere fanatics rise up to destroy heretics. Depth of character is plumbed for true motivation, spurring on the plot.
As they wend their way through the political maze, protagonists are either obviously good or undergoing development. Other characters’ alignments may be about to be revealed but the villains are all shades of black. Savin, the most evil of the antagonists, is a sociopath who delights in causing pain. Savin’s twisted mind rebels against those who disciplined or denied him as a child. Savin rapes women
and possibly also animals*, gaining pleasure from others’ pain. Drwyn, a foolishly ambitious chieftain whose ambition allies him with the Wild Hunt, also gains sexual pleasure from inflicting pain. Ytha, Speaker or shaman for Drwyn, is arrogant, blind to all but her ambition, never hesitating to bully and abuse those who are slow to do her bidding, while refusing to listen to the voice of reason.
I prefer characters not be black and white; I understand that even in real life there are sociopaths like Savin but they’re few and far between. When their actions hurt others, most people rationalise their behaviour to avoid subsequent internal conflict threating their self-image. ‘The end justifies the means’ is a common argument, balancing their internal priorities against their strongest driving force.
Admittedly rape is far more common that most people would like to acknowledge. Apart from Savin whose motivation is superior entitlement couple with a strong sadistic streak, the motivation for rape is understated, with rape used to paint a negative picture of the rapist. Drwyn, for example, has a strong sexual drive but it appears he’s getting sexual satisfaction from inflicting pain. Rape is rarely about sex, it’s usually about power. Drwyn summons a string of virgins to his tent for sex, thus ruining their lives and possibilities of respectable marriage, apparently requiring sex to fill his ‘needs’ with the additional hope of a heir, yet he inflicts unnecessary pain. In contrast, the good guys treat women far better. I prefer shades of grey in characters with exploration of motive and sometimes the bad guys even doing the good thing and vice versa.
In spite of this personal preference, I found Trinity Rising absorbing and the protagonists engaging. I hope that the last two books in this quartet hold many more twists and turns. I have a number of specific predictions based on apparent character alignment and traditional fantasy tropes: my challenge to Elspeth Cooper is “SURPRISE ME. Make my predictions wrong!” There is plenty of time to do so. Even if my predictions are correct, this is a highly enjoyable read in the epic fantasy style.
Update: One of the problems with reviewing a novel as epic as Trinity Rising after only one read through is the likelihood of having a brain fart leading to an error. Even when I read the bit about Savin and the firebird I mentally groped for the back story, feeling I’d forgotten something. (How? I read this book from start to finish in only a few days. Ah well, I was tired and stressed… [sigh]) Elspeth and I chat on twitter from time to time, so she felt comfortable asking where I got the bit about Savin possibly raping animals. I told her it was the firebird. She replied:
@DarkMatterzine Interesting – the firebird is a humanoid girl in bodypaint &mask in this book, and the scream a ref. to her having no speech
— Elspeth Cooper (@ElspethCooper) May 17, 2013
Then I remembered the scene with the beautiful athletic women performing their sensual acrobatics dressed only in greasepaint with a few strategically placed piercings… What can I say? Only, ‘Oops, sorry’ and thanks for querying my comment.
PS after Maureen Johnson’s recent tweets and Huff Post articles about gendered book covers, I meant to comment on Elspeth’s appropriately gender neutral book cover that allows EVERYONE to comfortably read Trinity Rising on the train. Again, I forgot. D’oh.