May 072018
 

Wanderlust Seasons II: Autumn of Fates (Novel)

The second book of the Wanderlust Seasons-series clocks in at 356 pages, excluding editorial, covers, etc.

 

The author has requested that I review this book. I have received a print copy for the purpose of doing so.

 

All right, since this is the second Wanderlust Seasons book, this will contain SPOILERS. Potential readers should be aware that I will try to remain as SPOILER-free as possible, but explicit spoilers WILL be noted later. However, I do reference the first book in the series, so if you want to experience the series as intended, please finish book #1 before continuing.

 

Now, I have read this book twice, mainly to do it justice – you see, my initial impulse after finishing reading this book was one of disappointment, but also a cognizance of this being something of a kneejerk reaction, so I began a second journey through this book, and now have arrived at, what I hope, will be a fair analysis of the book.

 

Now, as noted at the end of my first review, the book is told from the perspective of Kay, the character that was the event horizon of annoyance of book number 1. The switch of main characters, however, represents a chance to provide some much-needed depth to a character, who came off as a bad caricature of a rape victim in book number 1. Good news first: Kay is handled much, much better than in the first book.

 

By virtue of being capable of seeing inside her thoughts, we can better judge her responses, empathize better, and her overall behavior is more subdued, less shrew-ish, more organic. Kay, in short, feels, for the most part, like a narrator that doesn’t make you want to stop reading. The biggest emotional angle presented by the book, is her recalling the traumatic experience, coming clean about the experience with her allies/friends and then, reaching a sort of semi-functional acceptance. In short: She transitions from being a victim to being a survivor. I will return to that aspect later, but for now, let us assert that there is plenty of internal development for Kay, as she returns, of sorts, to a kind of more wholesome perspective, as she addresses her trauma and reaches a form of catharsis.

 

One of the stars, the main character of sorts, in book 1, was the world of Eden. The setting in which these novels take place is a fantastic, possibly.post-apocalyptic utopia, one that book #1 left in the throes of an increasingly successful nonviolent uprising against the powers that be, the 15, who govern the world. I called “Eden” a utopian society in the first book, strangely anachronistic and feeling very much like a guided form of society; it made sense to have the revolution that set out to change this society, to similarly employ means that are more pure, more high-hearted and idealistic than what you’d expect to see in a “realistic” supplement. It’s one of the aspects that I loved about this book; it reminded me of ERB’s Tolkien asserting that, yes, the world is full of chance and anarchy, but fantasy doesn’t have to be. Anyways, even back in book, there were notions of prison/reeducation camps, and Eden seemed limited, with the regions beyond potentially deadly, dangerous and even lethal. These were just hints. Similarly, the trauma that happened to Kay was so jarring in how it contrasted with this seemingly pure, whitewashed environment. As such, it should have come as no surprise, that this book changes, rather drastically, how Eden is presented to the reader.

 

The absence of Dartmouth/Brigg leaves a hole, and while his state is briefly noted as being rather benevolent, a reconvalescence under the auspice of the 15, the implications, ultimately, are somewhat sinister and threatening, something we further explore as we get to hear more about Bogen, who graduates to one of the main characters, as well as Dice and how their respective narratives have entwined in one way of another with the 15. Indeed, while it may only be a sidenote, having divorce only available by direct sanction of one of the 15 makes for a rather interesting chain of association, particularly when combined with the various notes interspersed through the book, with less than perfect marriages and families coinciding to generate an inkling of a forced, guided breeding/evolution as one part of the 15’s agenda…but that is, ultimately, speculation.

 

As a whole, the 15 have now joined the search for Mika’s father, and retain their semi-believable, reluctant benevolence, at least on a surface-level. At the same time, Bogen and the other characters seem to have rather direct reasons to attempt to move towards a rather direct confrontation with specific members of the 15. Indeed, there even is an instance in the story where member(s) of the mighty 15 are put in potentially mortal peril. By this, you may have gleaned a certain development: The innocence, the semblance of purity that encapsulated and characterized book #1, the idealism and, some might construe, naiveté, of Brigg, is gone, replaced, both internally and externally with a more jaded and less optimistic point of view.

 

Bereft of the biggest proponent of the classic behavior of the Causes, with ranks depleted due to the traitorous faction and the fanatical Zealots, the original revolution of the Causes seems bound to fail.

 

This brings us to the big external developments that happen in this book – the first is that, Mika’s father, much-sought-after artist whose work spawned the revolution, has penned a second book, one that, quality-wise, isn’t up o the first and contains a cipher for Mika and her friends to decode. This idea of a book within a book is one I personally really adore, but if you expect a clever cipher to be hidden in quoted paragraphs of text, as in e.g. the seminal work “House of Leaves”, then you’ll be disappointed here; if I were to provide a roleplaying game analogue here: The PCs solve the puzzle, not the players – the reader has no real glimpse at the cipher, and the protagonists indeed spend a lot of time and rumination on this part of the story, as well as on creating a better sort of “wanted”-drawing for Mika’s dad. This one keeps noting something “odd” about the face of her dad, mind you – one more potential hint that Eden may not be what we believe it to be.

 

While we’re on the subject of Mika: She is still one of my favorite kid characters in any fantastic book I’ve read. She is tough, yet fragile. She comes off as a proper, well-rounded character, and even when in distress, she never stoops to becoming a “Timmy-fell-down-the-well”-plot-device. In short, she represents a well-crafted form of child-character.

 

Similarly, the supporting cast of characters, in particularly the dynamics between Bogen and Kay, become rather interesting, generating a sort of surrogate, platonic family unit. Bogen also seems to have an inkling of Kay’s trauma, being less naïve in that regard than Brigg, which further puts a dent into the increasingly tarnished utopian semblance that Eden once so successfully managed to evoke when seen through the perspective of Brigg.

 

There is a reason for this, an important one: Beyond the personal level, the global level of politics in Eden, courtesy to the rising strength of the Zealots , also takes a more twisted turn, as the group manages to capture the protagonists and begins using domestic terrorism to get the authorities to concede to their demands – in an interesting twist, after explaining the very much cognizant perspective of the leaders of the Zealots. Sympathy for the devil here may well make sense for some readers, but do ends justify the means? Is this justified? Brigg would probably vehemently argue against this course of action, but in the context of the book, it works out – and, to me, represents the true end of the age of false innocence that Eden purported to depict. Beyond these two major plot-points, the book sports less set-pieces and development apart from the down-times, research and character development.

 

There is less ideological discussion, less interesting negotiation of the course to undertake herein, and indeed, one could argue that this book represents an acceleration beyond the means to control the course taken – for the 15, for the Zealots, for the main characters. The loss of control, this progressive destabilization, is obviously a component of any revolution, and a conscious decision on part of the author. At the same time, it slowly strips away the idealism that characterized the first book, making this one significantly darker.

 

There is a component in this book that explains the relatively sparse external plot and which serves to present a sense of hope, a positive aspect to derive hope from. In my opinion, it may well be why this book is written from Kay’s perspective. This would be Kay’s exceedingly strong and devout faith. She derives significant strength from her prayers, using them to negotiate the trauma she underwent, employing prayer as a means to gain the strength to confide in her allies regarding her ordeal. Here’s the problem: From context, it is pretty apparent that at least Bogen, probably most, if not all of the characters could glean what the deal was before then. If Eden is indeed not as perfect, not as idyllic, as we were led to believe via the eyes of Brigg, then having at least an abstract idea here is not impossible to conceive.

 

Now, to make that abundantly clear. While I am an atheist, I do not object to the depiction of devout characters in literature. Not at all, in fact. I have derived significant pleasure from reading several pieces of distinctly Christian fiction, of prose, epic poems, etc. that are suffused with the ideology and values of Christianity. I have also intensely studied trauma-literature as a literary subgenre and the treatment of trauma, particularly regarding rape and rape-survivors. The book presents the faith of Kay as a kind of way to gain the strength and convictions required to face the shame that she feels.

 

I also do not object to the depiction of the faith of Eden, as it seems to be somewhat rooted in Judeo-Christian traditions, without duplicating them, adding another puzzle-piece to the growing sense of unease that this setting evokes, one that conjures forth, at least to me, visuals of post-Original Sin eras, a suspicion of a neo-land-of-NOD, if you will. I don’t mind any of that.

 

There are two structural decisions, though, that made me really, really dislike this aspect of the book and identify them as the main reason why this one, to me at least, never managed to reach the same level of captivating fascination as the first book. The first of these components would be that Kay’s faith, in the larger order of things, is simply not relevant to anything interesting. As the reader, we do not doubt that she well come to trust and accept the other characters – she seems smart, and from her thoughts, to which we now are privy, we can glean her desires to confide and tell her tale. Indeed, as the readers, we have to come to grips with that aspect being hammered home OVER. AND OVER. AGAIN.

 

We have her allusions and commentaries by other characters; we have Kay’s flashbacks to the traumatic incident; we have her account of the traumatic incident, internal and external; AND we have her negotiation of being raped, her conflict, etc., in prayer. Now, I have read fiction wherein the impact of trauma was made palpable for the reader by repetition. This is not such a case. Instead, we already know what’s going to happen, then read about it in internal and external monologues and then read about it AGAIN in the prayer-sections. Instead of negotiating the rather interesting moral conundrums this book poses, her faith, in a way, is just as superficial and naïve as the ideals Brigg eschewed in the first book. It is an unquestioning, positive faith, and while an externalized, validating and all-loving father-figure in the guise of a deity construct provides benevolent to Kay’s development as a character, the ramifications on the plot are next to none-existent.

 

Instead of developing the plot further, or having Kay’s grown strength and surpassing of her trauma having some actual bearing on the plot, it is essentially completely disjointed from the book’s main plot. This would be less hard to swallow, were it not for her antagonistic stances in the previous book, and for the jarring, annoying slog that her repetitious prayer-sessions represent to the reader. There is no new information, no heretofore unknown knowledge to be gleaned here. It is a character talking herself up to find the courage she needs, with or without in-character witnesses. As the reader, we learn nothing new, and ultimately, this makes the whole sequences feel like repetitious filler, like a rehash. I’d wager that even a devout Christian would not draw much satisfaction from reading these, considering that they are, in essence, exposition dumps of knowledge that we already know. There is no insight to be gained here and the rhetoric of the truly devout of what may or may not be Christianity or something else, rings dull to my ears – I you’re really into praising your deity, then this type of rhetoric may do something for you…but then again, it seems like it’s not *really* a real world faith. That’s the only circumstance I can think of, regarding someone drawing something out of these passages. (At the same time, if that type of thing makes you uncomfortable/annoys you – consider this to be a warning!)

 

As noted, this would be less of an issue, if the prayers actually had a relevant ramification on the plot, but ultimately, I consider Kay to be a character that operates under the delusion of being the protagonist of the book, when she really isn’t. Dice and Bogen, and even Mika, do the heavy lifting regarding observations and strategy, with Kay’s voice lost to the internal struggle of her trauma seeping into such strategic talks, overshadowing these aspects, courtesy to the gravitas of her emotional situation. In fact, the whole cadre of main characters, when compared with book one, does not act at the forefront of any proceedings whatsoever. They are not the center of the plot, they are, at best, witnesses to much of it. Instead of being the catalysts for change, the potent force of the ideas they champion, they witness the whole revolution accelerate beyond their control – to the point, where the derailed train tragedy and act of domestic terrorism mentioned before, feels like an apt visual metaphor for the characters and their role within Eden and its plotline.

 

As noted, this is partially due to a lack of connection between the internal and external levels; there is no symbolic resonance between Kay’s ordeal and triumph and the proceedings. Moreover, though, Kay is depicted as a) not necessarily as smart as Brigg et al., and b), her writing, though it has improved vastly over book #1’s depiction of her, still forces her into a state that almost feels like she is an anti-protagonist. Kay, as spunky, smart and tough as she ostensibly is, ultimately assumes the role of a woefully passive caregiver for the group, with Mika as a surrogate daughter/small sister, Dice as a troubled elder/younger brother, and Bogen as a platonic replacement father-or big-brother-figure. Kay’s main contribution to the external plot beyond navigating her own trauma, is that of a caregiver and emotional center for the characters, as she drags them off to church, to talk, as she comforts them, etc. She creates the backdrop against which the plot happens TO the cast of characters. Not due to their actions. Much less due to HER actions.

 

Kay, as written here, is the most passive protagonist in a book that I have read in a long, long while. There is not a single “hero”-moment for her; no big screw-up, no potent rebuttal to a member of the 15, no ideological dismantling of the Zealots – nothing. Her contributions are relegated to those of a stock background character in e.g. a Victorian-era book, and in fact, that is somewhat how she behaves. Her brashness, trauma and strength never truly translate to her actions or any significant impact n the story, apart from the caring, social domain. Coming from the back of seeing the course of Eden changed by smart decisions, courage and clever decision-making, this makes her, as the center of the tale, feel pale. While mentions of “masculine pride” and such hogwash have been purged from this book, her characterization is still that of an arch-conservative, quasi-Victorian female, one who endures, keeps the “family” together and stays in the background, managing to transcend her trauma by faith.

 

This, as a whole, not only hampers the enjoyment you can derive from the book; ideologically, it also puts Kay’s depiction too close to the loathsome “Angel in the House” ideal of a sex-less, pure female who is characterized by faith, subservience, passivity, and endurance of this valley of tears. (If you haven’t read it – it’s obligatory reading at universities round here regarding Victorianism, for it’ll churn your stomach…) Granted, Kay is not exactly subservient to mortal characters, but her demeanor in prayer points to exactly that desire; similarly, her deviation from this highly problematic “ideal” is ultimately reduced to her trauma, and is hugged away into a diminished capacity in a proper group-hug, that thankfully makes way to the final part of the main plot as the book moves towards its completion. Instead of becoming an uplifting, even slightly heroic character, her narrative arc focuses on making her even more functional, proper, vanilla. Since her previous actions, since her trauma, never really got in the way of the plot, and since she is not required by the story to actually do much beyond being a “good female”, she never gets a chance to capitalize properly on the strength she has gained, remains restricted to being basically a passive go-in-between of characters, a nurturer.

 

All that abyss-gazing, talk, prayer and confronting her trauma…boils down to a resolve to bring the culprit to justice, but does not make a dent into the plot. Thus, instead of leaving you with a good feeling, it leaves you indifferent. Her struggle is internal and does not have a significant enough impact on anything that happens.

 

If that sounds jarring and highly problematic, then that’s because it is. I hope that all of this is set-up, left purposefully. But from the pages of the book, this is not how it looks like.

 

I like a lot about this book. The depiction of Kay’s rape and her ordeal, of her psyche and struggle, makes sense and is portrayed with ample empathy and care. Similarly, the details of Eden, its interesting tidbits and components of the world-building, are compelling and exciting and make you want for more. However, at the same time, the diverse components of the narrative do not provide any sort of overarching angle, beyond a general sense of escalation and loss of control, of the death of ideals, which should be contrasted with the faith component here. But ultimately, this contrast doesn’t really work, as it structurally has no connection between the internal and external. The internal and external plot do not tie together, and Kay does not really matter to anything significant that happens within this book that is not inside her head. In short, this feels like two books jammed together: One being an account of Kay’s internal struggles and eventual negotiation of her trauma; the other being the continuation of the depiction of how the revolution in Eden is going down, how it begins to fall apart and fray at the seams, how any revolution and ideology can lose its way. The second component, is infinitely more interesting to me, but only courtesy of the first being irrelevant to the plot as a whole, and worst of all, being horribly redundant in the retreading of the same thoughts and hints.

 

When I first read this book, I had to put it down multiple times. Surprisingly, not because I hated Kay as I did in the first book, but because the repetition of her internal coming to terms with her trauma got in the way of the story this tells – not because the subject is not tactfully handled, mind you, but because it is handled in such a heavy-handed manner, with so many repetitions. Neither is, surprisingly to me at least, Kay’s faith something I considered to be jarring in itself – I considered it jarring due to the lack of actual relevance to any of the plots that happen, internal or external. Mind you, one of them is 2 pages long. In which nothing happens. In a way, this component is symptomatic regarding the passivity, the non-proactive protagonist role, that Kay unfortunately suffers most from.

 

In fact, almost all other characters are more active and more interesting than her, once you take that trauma-bit away. It overshadows, arguably justifiably so, her personality, but not to the point where it would a factor that drives the plot in a meaningful manner. Where book #1 was a page-turner for me, I wouldn’t have finished this book, were it not for the fact that I *wanted* Kay, as depicted herein, to get her heroic moments, because I wanted to see the further twists and turns of Eden.

 

I am, as a whole, happy I gave this a second try. After my first reading experience, I was disappointed by the loss of innocence, of the idealism that suffused part I. Now, with a bit of distance, I understand the necessity of this development. This did not, alas, alleviate my complaints regarding the woefully passive main character, and the fact, that instead of taking a center seat regarding the revolution in Eden, we are herein relegated to a tangentially-related spectator seat of the big changes, one that is mostly concerned with individual character development sans providing the payoff for the emotional investment into the main character and her struggle.

 

If you have read book #1, and are as excited as I am about the further developments in Eden, then this is worth looking into, provided you do not expect the same level of tension or engrossment in the story. Personally, I am truly hopeful for book #3, wherein Bogen will be the main character. I hope that we’ll have a return to form. That more happens, that we’ll once again be parts of central changes and plotlines, instead of coincidental, third-rate spectators dealing with internal struggles of characters, which ultimately go nowhere.

 

I wanted to like this book after loving the first one, in spite of its rough patches. Still, as a whole, I cannot really recommend it as anything but a transition to a hopefully more compelling third book. My final verdict will clock in at 2.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.

 

You can get this novel here on createspace!

 

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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