July 13, 2012

Book Review: Honor and Entropy

I have over three hundred books on my "must read" list with more being added almost daily. If I'm going to spend more than three days reading a novel it must have flawless prose, captivating characters, and an engaging plot. Unfortunately, Honor & Entropy fails in two of these and I am abandoning it less than halfway through. Somewhere out there is an army of high school and college literature teachers who like to pretend the 20th Century never happened, or if it did, writers really ought to use proper (as in 19th Century) English to describe it. Honor & Entropy has fallen victim to that army. The prose is flawless and languid in a way Faulkner would love and Hemmingway would disdain. Unfortunately, the characters are a depressing band of thieves, cutthroats, con artists, and other thugs masquerading as soldiers, sailors, bounty hunters and handymen. The female characters are sipid caricatures of 1950's American women with all of their conniving, passive-aggressive ways and none of their fiery independent spirit.

The timeshift paradigm that has foreshadowing presented as standard narrative memory is actually a pretty interesting technique. Unfortunately, it is not carried off as perfectly as the prose itself. There were many times when I would read through four or five paragraphs (and in one case four or five pages!) with no discernible shift in POV until suddenly the character's name or some other recognizable attribute appears. It is most disconcerting as a reader to suddenly realize you've been inside the head of someone new without even realizing it. This inability to immediately identify a new character or a new moment in a character's life threw me straight out of the story and dumped me alongside the narrative leaving me feeling like a hitchhiker unceremoniously kicked out the passenger door at highway speed.

The plot itself is actually rather simplistic. Which is a good thing, by the way. Honor & Entropy is basically the story of a treasure hunt gone horribly wrong. There is a hint of Stevenson in both the quality of the prose and the psychotic mindset of most of the characters. In a very real sense, the timeshift narrative is Stevenson's POV experiments taken to a radical extreme. If you have nothing better to do than spend a couple weeks working your way through an overlong novel and you are a champion of 19th Century literature, then Honor & Entropy might very well be the perfect book for you. Anyone else should probably make a different selection.