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Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper

Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper
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Book Name: Trinity Rising
Author: Elspeth Cooper
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Harcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: July 26, 2012

A year ago, I reviewed my first book for Fantasy-Faction. It was for Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper. It was one of my favorite books of 2011. Fast-paced and exciting, I summed up my review by suggesting readers, “Just buckle up and enjoy the ride.” So it was with some excitement I sat down to read Trinity Rising, the second in the (now) four part Wild Hunt series. And I discovered a very different book in so many ways.

It is a far more ambitious book than Songs. It is everything that is great about epic fantasy and, if I’m being honest, everything that is wrong with the genre too.

Cooper’s grown as a writer. Instead of being restricted to the tale of Gair and a very limited group of POV characters, Trinity Rising spans across an Empire, from the frozen north to the desert lands in the south and she juggles everything with skill, never losing the reader and filling the pages with tension. Such is her confidence, she doesn’t reintroduce Gair until almost half-way through the book. Instead, we get to know Teia, a young girl with the power to see the future. Life’s certainly not easy for Teia. The old Chief died in bed with her and now she’s ordered to become his son and heir’s lover. Trouble is he likes to smack her around when he’s not busy planning to become Chief of Chiefs of all the Northern clans in order to start a war with the Empire to regain his tribe’s lost lands. Matters aren’t helped that she’s seen the future and it all ends in blood and death for her clan if they proceed with the war. She thinks the only way to save her people is to warn the Empire of their plans.

When Gair does appear, he’s in mourning for his lover and is taking his frustrations out on everyone, especially his mentor, Alderan. Alderan forces Gair to join him on a trip south to an Arabesque land called Gimreal in search of a powerful weapon that could save the world. Gimreal is in a state of unrest as a cult of hard-line fundamentalists strikes out against foreigners and the Church. Our heroes are soon drawn into the conflict as they battle to save a group of nuns who gave them shelter in a storm.

So… Beautifully written. World-shaking conflict. An ever-growing cast of characters. An array of interesting cultures and a unique magic system. As I said, Trinity Rising is all that’s best in epic fantasy. I burned through the book in a few days despite its length and my limited free time. I was looking for excuses to read it; I was enjoying it that much.

But, for everything I loved about the book, my one big complaint is that nothing actually happens. Songs was very much a traditional tale – with a self-contained character arc (The Hero Discovered as Joseph Campbell describes it) excellently told. However, Trinity Rising is a case of someone moving chess pieces around on a board. We all know it’s going to end big in book four (and I have absolute faith in Cooper to deliver) but here we see the initial set up and not much else.

It’s a problem that so many authors struggle with – the most famous being George R. R. Martin – and, for me, a problem that always leaves a bit of a sour taste no matter how much I’ve enjoyed reading a book. At least we won’t have to wait seven years for the next installment but I just wish I wasn’t left hanging so much at the end. Tolkein’s great quote is, “the tale grew in the telling” however, as much as I love the worlds that Martin, Rothfuss and Cooper have created, I sometimes feel that they have fallen almost too much in love with it themselves as they explore it in ever greater detail. The tales wander with the characters leaving the reader frustratingly trudging along. I accept it as the standard of the genre but I increasingly don’t like it.

Part of me wishes that Cooper had kept the focus on Gair who, at least, I was already invested in rather than expand the scope of the series because we barely get to know everyone else. Also, due to the constraints of the size of the cast, Cooper reverts to short cuts to evoke sympathy or distaste for various characters, mainly by using sex. It seemed for the first part of the book all anyone did was have sex in not very pleasant ways. It turns out the bad guys are selfish and cruel lovers in the world of the Wild Hunt. I’m not a prude but, after awhile, I was a little disappointed that there weren’t other ways used to establish the characters. It all seemed a bit too cliché and I think Cooper is a better writer than that.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m still a huge fan of Elspeth Cooper and I enjoyed Trinity Rising a lot. It’s a good book and I’ll be first in line to pick up book three next year. I just wish Trinity Rising had been the great book I was expecting.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (7 votes cast)
Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper, 10.0 out of 10 based on 7 ratings
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9 Comments

  1. Markcyan says:

    Mike:

    This is one of the best, fairest, and most honest book reviews I have read in a long time. Expertly done, and gives a potential reader a fair idea of what they are walking into, without giving away the book. Well done, and thanks. I agree with the ‘epic’ part of fantasy being too ‘epic’ at times…one of the best comments/observations I’ve seen in a while, and one point of view I’m sure that many share.

    Mark.

  2. xiagan says:

    I can second the last comment and most of the review but I do see the necessity to “move chess pieces around on a board” to get a blasting end. In contrast to (for example) some Wheel of time books, a lot happens in Trinity Rising. It may be mostly skirmishes but I felt entertained throughout the whole book and I think the next book(s) will be even more awesome because Elspeth did it this way and not wrote a second book in the style of Songs of the Earth. 🙂

  3. I hesitate to comment on reviews, but I think it is worth pointing out here that I have made no secret of the fact that this is not a series of self-contained books, but a big story served up in episodes. Songs happened to work out with a narrative arc that tied up neatly at the end, kinda like a pilot show for a new series on TV. The nature of the story I want to tell through The Wild Hunt didn’t allow me to do that with Trinity Rising.

    I’m sorry the book wasn’t what you were expecting, Mike, but I very much appreciate the time you spent reading and writing your review.

  4. Khaldun says:

    We’re glad to have you with us, Elspeth. Usually it’s nice to have a nice plot arc for the first book that is self-contained but, hopefully, has plenty of hooks in there for book 2. Unfortunately, when we read the first book in a series that has a “standard” plot arc, sometimes we end up disappointed when the second book in a series feels like a lot of stuff is happening but with no focus (or a focus that makes sense but won’t culminate until the next novel).

    As the reviewer has pointed out, this happened to GRRM with Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons. He is, in my opinion, the best writer of low-magic epic fantasy ever. I had issues with his books too. The plot arc of the two novels feels like one giant climb but we won’t see the summit until the next book is released and all hell breaks lose. But still, they are so well written and I’m so invested in teh characters that it doesn’t even matter.

    The fact is, the reviewer said that despite his issues with the book he will be first in line to buy the next book and that he’s still an Elspeth Cooper fan. I think that’s what counts. (Or counts for something, at least?)

  5. Larik says:

    Ah, this just reminded me to read Songs of the Earth. Great review, Mike.

  6. Khaldun,

    What you’re referring to is almost inevitable in middle books in a series, where they have to start resolving the fallout of what happened in the first and ramping up the stakes for the end. It can be very difficult to do all that *and* provide a self-contained beginning-middle-end arc for the second book, all of its own.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not quibbling with Mike’s review at all, and I did get that he enjoyed the book, for which I am delighted. My only disappointment is that I wasn’t able to blow him away quite as much as he was hoping for.

    • Overlord says:

      The second book of a series is always the going to be the toughest. Lynch, Brett, Rothfuss: all three of these guys have received less than bright reviews from certain reviewers for their second books. I think the reason for this is that a second book has to widen a series (typically) and therefore horizontal movement must occur to a greater extent than the first book of a series. Often, this is done by the arrival of new characters, the exploration of other areas, the introduction of new ideas, etc – some readers are turned off by this, others are drawn in.

      (I haven’t read Elspeth’s second book by the way).

  7. Khaldun says:

    @Elspeth
    I completely understand. I think second books are especially difficult for fantasy. You want to give more of the same (great characters, interesting plot, etc) but expand the scope or raise the stakes in some way. When you’re writing mystery novels with one main character there might be small threads that you can weave together to help form a longer plot arc for the series, but generally things are able to be tied up pretty nicely with a) mystery b)complications c)solve mystery. It’s only natural to want to blow people away with each and every one of your books, but good writing involves changing your style and plotting and scope as you write and learn, which will necessitate a change in reader response. I think your point about the fallout from the first book is a good one too. You need to deal with the fallout, otherwise it will make people upset, but the way in which you deal with it will not please everyone and to follow it up with a self-contained plot arc is next to impossible. Either way, thanks for your response =)

    @Overlord
    I haven’t read the second novel in Brett’s series, but I have read both Lynch and Rothfuss. I agree with you with regards to the widening of the scope of a second novel and the fact that some readers won’t appreciate this. Some will, some won’t. Characters also (if the writing is good) must inevitably go through some kind of change over time, and some readers will be happy with the changes and some won’t. Some characters will die, and new ones will take their place (look at GRRM), and this will please many and frustrate others.

    I think part of the reason Lynch’s second book didn’t do as well was because of the side plot. In book 1 we had con artists operating in a city with enormous stakes. While the second novel had an equal amount of politics and backstabbing and a con job at its heart, most readers weren’t really expecting to the whole pirate side of things involved. I thoroughly enjoyed the second novel, but… well, I don’t want to get into spoilers, but certain events in the first novel made it difficult to have as wide a range of emotions when looking at the main characters.

    With Rothfuss I think the problem was that lots of interesting stuff happened, and the writing is absolutely astoundingly beautiful (as always), it was very different from the first book. I’m of the opinion that you need to find the proper balance of familiar and new, and that’s extremely tough in second novels. If Kvothe had stayed at the university the whole time and had more troubling complications with familiar characters, some readers would have been happy. Others would have railed that he just did the exact same thing. Either way, you’re not going to please everyone.

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