lunes, 24 de septiembre de 2012

Venom in her Veins by Tim Pratt

(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)  
Review Soundtrack: I suggest that you read this review while listening to Poison by Alice Cooper (Spotify, Youtube). 

Tim Pratt is one of my favorite authors. So far, I have read eight of his novels and a number of his short stories and I've loved them all. I still have to find something written by him that I don't like, and that is something that I can't say of any other author. Venom in her Veins, published earlier this year, is not Pratt's typical novel, but it is still no exception to my experience with his work: I completely and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I don't usually read franchise novels or tie-in fiction. I did read some Dragonlance novels back in the day, but I found the average quality... not very satisfying, to put it mildly. Thus, I didn't know what to expect of a Forgotten Realms novel, like Venom in her Veins. I didn't know a thing about the role-playing game in which it is based and I feared finding myself at lost in a sea of strange creatures and arcane references.

It turned out that I had no reason to be afraid. Pratt does a wonderful job of introducing the reader to a world full of exotic species and monsters: Yuan-ti, Derro, Dragonborn, Eladrin, Tiefling, grell, swordwings, shadow snakes, anathemas... Discovering, step by step, the world of Venom in her Veins is truly a pleasure. I don't really know how much of all that is part of the Forgotten Realms folklore and how much comes from Pratt's fruitful imagination, but I had a really great time exploring this new (to me) universe.

Venom in her Veins is the story of Zaltys. Apparently, she is just a human girl but, in fact, she is a pureblood Yuan-ti (a member of a reptilian species with almost human appearance) without her knowing it. She was the only survivor when her village was attacked by the Derro and was adopted by a human family of merchants. Due to some unexpected events, Zaltys will begin a quest with her cousin Julen in which she will uncover the truth about her nature and will also learn a thing or three about her world... and her family.

As you can imagine from this description, Venom in her Veins is a YA fantasy novel and a good one at that. The characters are likable, the plot is interesting and the book is fun and easy to read. Pratt also manages to raise some moral issues and to pose questions about deep topics such as the free will vs. determinism dilemma (and its implications for the archetypal protagonist of an epic fantasy novel).

Readers familiar with Pratt's style will find in Venom in her Veins many of the best traits of his prose. This is novel is not only fun, it is also very well written, with sharp dialog and a wonderful sense of humor:

“There are things in the jungle that would take your knife away, use it to clean their teeth, and then stick it through your head hilt first,” Zaltys said. “Dagger-fighting is fine for drunkards in bars—though you’re only, what, twelve, so I guess you’re too young for that?—but it’s not much good in the jungle.”
And, of course, the book is full of Pratt's wild imagination and of some of his recurring themes: magical objects, ancient gods and, above all, those worlds that lie beyond our own, across hidden dimensions, and the nightmares that inhabit them:
On the far edges of the sky, there are sentient galaxies that watch us with hungry eyes made of suns. Things the size of our entire world, the continents of their bodies studded with malevolent eyes. Gigantic serpents made not of flesh and blood but the substance of stars, capable of poisoning reality itself with their venom. Conglomerations of singing tentacles and lashing pseudopods that can entangle the substance of time and space itself. These beings live far, far away from here, but they’d like to come closer.
The book, however, has some minor flaws. The plot is very straightforward (at least compared to other Pratt's novels and I'm thinking of Briarpatch, for example) and some of the twists are fairly predictable. The tone is also much lighter than usual in his work, but I guess that is more appropriate for this kind of novel. Finally, I found the book a bit too short. I surely could have used a few more pages of Zaltys's adventures! 

All in all, I highly recommend Venom in her Veins if you're looking for a light and fun read. I don't know if all Forgotten Realms novels are as good as this one, but if that is the case I definitely need to read more of them.

(You can also read this review in Spanish/También puedes leer esta reseña en español)

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