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Paula R. Stiles is American, but has also lived in Cameroon, Scotland and Canada. Recently, she completed a PhD in Medieval History on the Knights Templar and has published fiction in places like Strange Horizons, Writers of the Future XXIV, Black Gate, Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic Science Fiction, and The Living Dead II. For further info, try her homepage: http://thesnowleopard.net/other.html
on April 28, 2011 :
The strength of "Fraterfamilias" is its cast of characters, a gathering of personalities about whom the reader almost instantly wants to know more. They're well-constructed, complex and largely sympathetic. The authors capture their individual voices very well. It was anticipation of their several fates that, largely, kept me reading to the end.
Unfortunately, the weakness of "Fraterfamilias" also lies in the characters. More specifically, it lies in their failure to really DO anything for most of the span of the novel.
The action of the story opens with a very strong scene in which a leading character is killed. Much credit goes to Doloughan and Stiles for finding a way to kill off their protagonist in the introduction and still have him be the pivot of the rest of the novel without resorting to one long flashback.
However, after that very promising opening, the rest of the characters seem to run themselves a merry caucus race for the rest of the book, circling around each other with motivations and goals that are never quite clear to the reader, and possibly even to themselves. The main plot is just barely strong enough to tie all the leading roles together, and very often the subplots were more interesting...up to the point where it was realized that they were either never going to be resolved, or resolved in a vague, hurried fashion.
The villain of the piece, as much as he can be considered a villain, remains shrouded in mystery for the bulk of the story, but then is largely left hanging in his final scene, with no indication of a dénouement or even a proper comeuppance. Not that he does much in the span of the novel to deserve one, other than setting loose his despicable henchman, whose final treatment is much milder than it should have been.
As a whole, the novel feels like the authors came up with an interesting cast of characters (about whom I'm sure there's an interesting backstory tucked away somewhere), but couldn't think of the right paces to put them through. The result is that the story is just scene after scene of "talking heads", who never really live up to the potential they promise.
It's not a bad novel, really...if you enjoy internal dialogue, and characters working through their feelings, then this may be your book. However, that's not the type of novel the cover and the writeup, or even the introduction, promise. What they do promise is something that's never truly realized.
Personally, I'd like to see the bulk of this story edited down to novella length, then have that serve as the introduction to a longer work, in which we learn more about the characters, and get more of their backstory in the context of a more action-driven (not necessarily violence, but for heavens' sake, have them do something!) plot.
I suppose its some praise for the novel that I was able to finish it, when I have abandoned works by more well-known authors, and also that I still would like to know more about the characters involved. I do appreciate its better points, but I doubt that I will be recommending it to anyone else.
(reviewed long after purchase)