|Warner Aspect Books, 580 pages|
|A review by Kim Fawcett
Rodrigo knows he's been usurped, and that Mar is likely to arrange a fatal accident before he can come of age. Things might be different if he could wield the Still -- the ancestral power that runs in his family. But to use the Still he must first be crowned.
Rodrigo manages to escape Mar, but his troubles aren't over. His arrogance and viciousness turns everyone, even his best friend, against him. Mar and the invading Eibers both hunt him. And without allies on the Council, his hopes of regaining his crown are as slim as his life expectancy is low.
It's a shame, but I suspect a lot of readers won't make it past this point. Feintuch really pushes to make Rodrigo's character unlikable, perhaps taking things too far. Can anyone be that self-centred and boorish? I found myself saying "yeah, okay, I get the point" more than once. But Rodrigo does occasionally show wisdom, and the faith of his brother Elryc and friend Rustin are infectious -- he must merit such devotion for some reason. It's worth hanging on to find out why, and to discover how Rodrigo himself eventually overcomes his flaws and transforms himself from a child to both a man and a leader.
The rest of the book is action-packed and exciting enough for anyone. Rodrigo and Rustin travel throughout Caledon, seeking aid from each Council member in turn while barely avoiding pursuit. With all the odds against them, you have to keep reading to find out how they succeed, if they succeed. Even at the book's end, you can't be certain, and Feintuch generates enough tension to keep you at the edge of your seat right up until the final line.
Feintuch cannot be accused of protecting his characters. Bad things happen to them (all the time, in fact). Just when you think you've reached a high point, there's a new low to plunge into. This translates into fast pacing, tight plotting, and lots of growth for the major characters. What doesn't kill them really does make them strong.
The Still has a couple of flaws, but I feel that I'm nit-picking by even mentioning them. The betrayal of Rustin's father, Lewellyn, is never explained. The timing of some events pushes coincidence. And Rodrigo's knack for falling into the right action at the right time could strain your belief. But overall, these are small things.
The bigger flaw, and I'm not sure it's a flaw at all, will only bother you if you've read Feintuch's other books. On his webpage, Feintuch describes his initial novel idea: "Anyway, what if someone were in charge of a group, but he knew himself to be incompetent and unable to lead? What if those he commanded also knew it, and he was aware they knew?" He's talking about Midshipman's Hope, but guess what? That describes The Still too. Feintuch has recycled his premise for the Seafort Saga books, and while The Still manages to be a completely different novel, if you didn't like the Seafort Saga books, you may find The Still to be more of the same.
That said, this is one of the most enjoyable fantasy books I've read this year. The Still is exactly the kind of book I want to take to the beach -- a sweeping story with lots of action, lots of tension, and lots of characters to love and hate.
Kim Fawcett works, reads, writes, and occasionally sleeps in Ottawa, Canada. A day job writing for the hi-tech industry hinders her creative efforts, but has no effect at all on her book-a-week reading habit. She dreams of (a) winning the lottery, (b) publishing a novel, © travelling the world, and (d) doing all of the above all at once.
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