Wit'ch Gate (Banned & the Banished 4)

Wit'ch Gate (Banned & the Banished 4) - James Clemens First and foremost, this book is miles better than the prior ones in the series. The writing quality has hugely improved and someone clearly got on his case about of the 'suddenly's that were the bane of my existence while reading. I noticed within the first few chapters and held on to the vague tattered notions of hope that maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't descend back into mediocrity. I wasn't disappointed, thankfully. I'm both impressed and pleased for Clemens that Wit'ch Gate really pulled through.

More details and spoilers under the break~

As seems to be the case with my reviews, I end up with way more cons than I do with pros. Can't be helped I suppose.

Sy-wen and Kast - Holy what I hated these two in Wit'ch Gate. I couldn't fucking stand them and wanted them just gone. They still haven't been developed in the slightest, and really only exist as a convenient plot device. Having a great scout that can also kick some major ass and then turn back into a nifty travel-size human at the end of a day's work is awfully convenient and for the most part just pissed me off. Not to mention - after the crash of Richald's windship, apparently the only thing they were concerned about was finding some privacy so they could get their funky groove on. Wow, really? People died in that crash and you're stranded in the desert, and all you can think about is sex? No no no no no nope.

Plot twists - I personally found them easy enough to predict and generally expected them long before they showed up. Some people might enjoy being able to nail down what's going to happen; I do not. I enjoy being shocked and surprised in books and I don't like things taking conventional and logical turns if at all possible. This one's more of a personal dislike than anything, but generally, a bit more intrigue and build-up to the reveal never hurts.

Redshirts - The background characters are rarely named and seem to exist almost for kill fodder and nothing else. It's frustrating to see so many characters, all of whom would realistically have lives and worries and actual names being discarded so easily. As soon as a new Redshirt Recruit joined the main party, you could pretty easily predict there'd end up being some sort of kerfuffle and the poor new guys would get killed.

Snowflakes - There are a lot of them, really special ones too. I marked down a reference to the sheer amount of Sues and Stus I was coming across, followed by a stream of expletives that took up two lines, so I assume there were a bit too many for my tastes. I'd add more on this but my brain seems to have purged those memories. Aside from most of the main party, anyway, who were set up as them in their introductory books.

Marriage - No, please no. The whole forced-to-marry-Er'ril-in-an-elv'in-tradition-thing marriage deal just isn't working for me at all. It seems far too convenient, almost as if the author was having too much trouble getting the two characters to sit the hell down and talk about their feelings, so he smushed them together instead through an interrupted arranged marriage. And of course that somehow makes at least Elena more willing to accept and talk about her feelings. Despite how much this part of the story pissed me off, what did help sweeten it for me was that Elena didn't take to it immediately. She took her time thinking about it, instead of just immediately jumping into her feelings for Er'ril. Again though, despite that, there were aspects of it that changed right off the bat that I felt were just ridiculous.

Women - Although Clemens tries his best to write strong, believable female characters (major props for trying, I have to give him that)...he just isn't getting it well in the Wit'ch books. There's too much of 'I am a woman and therefore need a man in my life or else I will never feel fully happy with myself'. Mycelle, for one, could be a perfectly bad-ass, tough as nails female warrior who clearly does not need a man in her life. Yet she falls for plenty of them, with Tyrus or Tychus or whatever his name is being the last. It's kind of ridiculous and demeaning, not only to women, but also to people who are perfectly content not being in a relationship. Not everybody seeks the companionship of another person, and that's normal. Some more diversity in that area would kick ass, and a great opportunity for that was missed with Mycelle.

A good example is that instead of speaking and relaying information themselves, both Sy-wen and Elena turn to their men to do it for them. They're not mute, and they've always been portrayed as the ones 'in charge' so to speak - Elena as the infamous and foretold wit'ch, and Sy-wen as the daughter of a councilmember and ambassador of the merai people. And yet somehow they still need their gruff, strong silent type men to do all of the talking for them while they just...hover around I guess. It's ridiculous.

Assassin's training - It was mentioned so unbearably often. Every time Kesla did anything, bat an eyelid or fart or whatever, her Assassin's Training was spoken of, sometimes in detail. I originally enjoyed the idea of the Alcazar assassins, training out in the middle of the desert all mysterious and such, but the sheer amount of mentions just completely ruined it for me. It made it feel like too much of a gimmick, being pushed onto me and forcing me to acknowledge it. Let those assassins stay mysterious, and instead of just throwing 'IT'S THEIR TRAINING GUYS TRUST ME' around whenever one of them does anything, just describe it, or leave it alone. We know they're assassins. We know they're going to be doing assassin-y things. Describe it simply without pushing it into our faces, or leave it alone.

Standard cereal box villains - The monologuing ghoul. I was in mental pain having to read that particular part. If your villain has to monologue to feel good about himself, then he's probably a shit villain. It's not realistic, it's not believable, it's good for nothing except telling our main good guys a ton of information that they probably suspected but couldn't confirm and were shocked at the half-revelations before swiftly dispatching Mr Baddie, probably tragically losing at least one member of the party in doing so. Yep.

All in all, a ton less happens. This is bad for some people, and amazing and refreshing for me. The characters had a lot more breathing room this time around, and we got to see a lot more thinking going on. This is exactly what the series needed, and I have to hugely applaud Clemens for the improvement. It's still plain and easy to predict and such, but it was so much better than the prior books. I feel it sets up the final book pretty nicely as well, so hopefully Wit'ch Star will show even more of these improvements.