Book Review: The Lost Prince
by Edward Lazellari
Awakenings, Edward Lazellari’s 2011 fantasy debut (which, like its sequel before us, has a boring, hackneyed title that could have been avoided if only I’d been consulted ahead of time), had a fantastic premise: a handful of ordinary people were living their lives on a thin scrim of recent memories layered over a great void where their personal histories should have been. They were, it quickly turned out, strangers to this world. They were a cadre of colleagues from the parallel, vaguely medieval world of Aandor, and they’d escaped through an inter-dimensional portal with their infant prince in order to protect him from a threat of assassination. But something went wrong during the jump, and they were all scattered and wiped of their memories – until the events of Awakenings, when the forces who were hunting the prince in Aandor double their efforts to find and eliminate him on Earth, and suddenly a group of ordinary human beings into a frightening world they’ve long since forgotten.
It was very good stuff, that boringly-titled debut. The scenes were vividly conceived, the characters all sounded very distinct, the bad guys were very bad, and Lazellari over and over demonstrated a flair for action sequences that isn’t, shall we say, common in today’s fantasy genre.
The boringly-titled sequel, The Lost Prince, continues the story but hits a sophomore slump of rhetorical stumbles that took me right out of the story far too often and far too regularly. Any created world is going to present its creator with a strong temptation to explain instead of narrate, and Lazellari yields to that temptation as often in this second book as he resisted it in the first – and it never works in his favor:
Magic was fantastic and mysterious, but there were rules and limitations, their own version of the laws of physics. A wizard … was a learned sorcerer, someone who studied both magic and science, honed their skill, and added to his or her natural abilities. Wizards could blend science and magic to create new, hybrid spells and enchantments. Any hag or bum with a natural inclination to magic could hang a shingle on their hovel and call himself a sorcerer. A wizard belonged to a recognized brotherhood. They were the Ph. D.s of the arcane, researching the depths of their power and the multiverse.
Just look at that mess! “Their” own version should be “its” own version, since the laws of physics applies to magic, not the rules and limitations; a wizard, singular, is first “their” to avoid the cumbersome “his or her,” but then right away trips into being “his or her” anyway; any hag or bum (i.e. disreputable woman and disreputable man) could hang a shingle over “their” hovel, but only call “himself” a sorcerer – and belong to a brotherhood, no hags need apply. All because Lazellari, here and in dozens of other spots, refuses to simply pick a tone and stick with it (and, apparently, refuses to care about the mess that results, or to hire a proofreader who does). And look at the sloppiness of it: from that exposition, do you have any idea what the difference is, in this created world, between science and magic? Especially if science can be incorporated into spells? It’s a fine and well-established concept in fantasy for magic to have its own rules, but if it has the same rules as science, then it’s science. Magic can’t both by mysterious and have rules. It isn’t cricket, after all.
Likewise with the digging into his characters that was such a strong point of the boringly-titled Awakenings: here it’s constantly teetering on the edge of overwriting. One of the ‘awakened’ characters in The Lost Prince – one of its best characters, actually – is a preacher named Reverend Allyn Grey, and Lazellari gets into trouble virtually every time he tries to extrapolate the Reverend’s religious thoughts:
God did not force issues. He did not teleport the Jews from Egypt and plunk them down safely in the land of milk and honey – homes already built and crops abundantly sprawling. He did not remove the tree of knowledge from Eden where the possibility of its fruit touching Adam’s lips might stain his descendants for generations. God set expectations and left men to choose their paths.
We can only hope it’s Allyn Grey who’s thinking such arrant nonsense (Every Jew and Christian reading that passage is simultaneously saying, “Jeez, where do I sign up for that God?”) instead of Lazellari himself, but then what to make of the frequent just-plain-mistakes we hit along the way? At one point the now-teenage prince, Daniel, is on the run from his enemies in the company of Reverend Grey and says to him, “It’s obvious from your driving that you’re not good at cloak-and-dagger stuff. I appreciate that you tried to help.” To which we’re told Grey’s response is, “Allyn was surprised at how much he relished the compliment despite their predicament.” But there was no compliment. There wasn’t even anything that could be mistaken for a compliment. It’s annoying. It stops you from simply enjoying the corker of a story Lazelli’s trying to tell.
It’s tough to tell, but it’s possible that story is going to continue into a third boringly-titled book. Let’s hope it gets its stride back.