on March 17, 2011 :
The Voyage of the Minotaur by Wesley Allison is the steampunk version of Imperial colonization. The Dechantagne siblings – Iolanthe, Terrance, and Augie – are nobles who live in Mallontah (a country similar to colonial England). They – Iolanthe – have used all of their family’s influence and sunk their family’s fortune into a venture to colonize a newly discovered continent, Birmisia. This book covers the settlers’ voyage, landing, founding, and first interactions with Birmisia’s natives – intelligent two-legged lizard-men that the Dechantagnes’ want to use as labor and dinosaurs.
This is a new author and a new sub-genre for me, so I had no pre-conceptions prior to reading this novel. When I first started reading, I was pretty impressed. The author has a solid plot and the activity is rather interesting. The sample – about 4 chapters – was good enough that I purchased The Voyage of the Minotaur and its sequel, The Dark and Forbidding Land. Depending on how the sequel reads, I may buy book three, The Drache Girl. This is felt like a first book for Allison, but I know he has written many others. I really enjoyed this book - there is a lot of additional potential in this book (and therefore this author) that a good editor can drag out of it.
It was after purchase that the issues of this novel started to appear. One of the first problems I had was characterization. Allison did not spend a lot of time building character - almost all of his main characters feel rather static: Iolanthe is rather cold, Augie is flighty, and Terrence is a troubled drug addict; Senta is happy-go-lucky, Zurfina the Magnificent is mysterious, etc. Allison’s secondary characters are so under developed as to be throw-aways - almost impossible to tell apart (unless you read with a moleskin and a pen :). We [the reader] aren’t really given enough information into character motivation – in addition to knowing what a character does, I also want to know why a character did it.
I felt that there are considerable pacing issues with this novel and I think they are all based around description. Descriptive prose is very important – it allows the reader to visualize the activity occurring. While I dislike over-use of descriptive language (too much can slow a book down), this book suffers from under-use of descriptive language. Everything feels rushed - the reader isn’t given any time to savor the new experiences. One perfect example of this is the arrival of the Minotaur at Birmisia. 99.9% of the settlers are seeing Birmisia for the first time. As the ship pulls into the bay, a herd of dinosaurs (Iguanodon) are seen crossing a clearing between trees. I can only imagine the disbelief and awe a human would feel upon seeing their first live dinosaur, since the author didn’t describe it to me.
There is a lot that happens in this book. We meet lots of new people and have tons of new experiences. The writing is so tight (for lack of a better word) that, at times, I felt like I was in a race. I wanted moments to digest what I’d read and time for my heart to stop racing before being thrown into the next action or revelation.
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(view spoiler)[When Terrence finds out his drug of choice (White Opthalium) has been poisoned by the Wizard Kesi, he goes to confront Kesi. Terrence busts down Kesi’s door, disturbing him in the middle of committing murder. Terrence and Kesi struggle before Kesi runs away and into the forest. The reader is barely given time to digest this before we are tossed head-first into a confrontation between Kesi and Zurfina the Magnificent. I wanted to screech! My heart was already racing and he hasn’t given me a break! Thank God I’m not a stroke candidate. :) (hide spoiler)]
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There are many underlying themes within this novel: Racism, classism, religion and religious tolerance, drug use and self-preservation. The author touches on all of these topics in a way that doesn’t broadcast his personal POV, which I appreciate. While all five of the themes were present, the two I want to focus on are drug use and self-preservation. I felt that the author did an exceptionally good job with these two.
Colonialism is defined as “a relationship between an indigenous (or forcibly imported) majority and a minority of foreign invaders. The fundamental decisions affecting the lives of the colonized people are made and implemented by the colonial rulers in pursuit of interests that are often defined in a distant metropolis. Rejecting cultural compromises with the colonized population, the colonisers are convinced of their own superiority and their ordained mandate to rule.”
This is what was planned for the native Lizard people of Birmisia. The Dechantagnes’ plan was to take over the continent of Birmisia and basically enslave the native population (in addition to converting the natives to their religion). When the Dechantagnes meet the native Birmisians, they try to get the lizard-men to change their allegiance from their native peoples to the settlers. Amongst themselves, the Dechantagne siblings and the settlers speak about how cheaply the Birmisian labor will cost (bare pennies a day).
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(view spoiler)[What the settlers don’t take the time to do is to reconnaissance the land or the natives. The settlers make no allowances for the possible intelligence of the natives - a huge mistake. Augie - who is the only person who speaks the native language and in charge of native communications - blithely translates words incorrectly and does not take the time to learn about the natives’ culture. These mistakes allow the native lizard-men to lure 75% of the settlers’ solider protection into a trap.
The natives, on the other hand, did take the time to learn about the settlers as well as learn their language. The lizard-men learned that the natives in Mallontah had been enslaved and that the settlers have plans to do the same to them. Out of pure self-preservation, the natives try to kill all the settlers (this does not work). I love the fact that the author attributed such intelligence, planning, and cunning to the natives. While the reader cannot help but to side with the settlers, the plight of the natives makes their actions completely understandable. (hide spoiler)]
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One of the main characters, Terrence Dechantagne, is a drug addict. He is addicted to a drug named White Opthalium. This drug is made out of a mixture of things, but what makes it potent is that it has magic in it. When Terrence uses the drug, he is transported to a land that is his alone. The only “person” in this land is an angel-like woman named “Pantagria.” Terrence has been abusing White Opthalium for many years – and Pantagria is the personification of his drug use. Terrence has allowed life and love to pass him by, as his heart belongs to the perfect Pantagria. As the novel continues, Pantagria and the land that she inhabits go from being Terrence’s “safe harbor” to a place of pain, hurt, and destruction. I love the way that Pantagria’s character is first shown from the eyes of a person who really doesn’t consider himself an addict – she is perfect and a shelter from any storm – and later shown from the eyes of someone who knows they are an addict – Pantagria is dangerous and will always cause pain.
To close everything out, I have to say that I am happy that I discovered Wesley Allison's The Voyage of the Minotaur and I will read book 2. As my first foray into steampunk, I am relatively happy. I do believe that 100% of this novel’s issues can be corrected by a great editor. It is my hope that Allison – who is self-published – will eventually re-write this book to bring it to its full potential.
(reviewed 60 days after purchase)