Review of Demorn: Blade of Exile (The Asanti Series Book 1)
Demorn: Blade of Exile by David Finn is a wild science-fantasy stream of consciousness that thrashes and dashes from one dimension-scape to another. This is not plodding fantasy, it is more like psychedelic prose-poetry that defies convention with a hardy kick in the face. The protagonist, Demorn, is sword-slashing gun-firing she demon who ironically serves as a bounty hunter for a clan called the Innocents.
Judging this book in terms of tropes and narrative familiarity is pointless. It is its own art and internally consistent. This is not a cozy for the meek, it shares little common ground with anything I can point to. I don’t know if that makes author Finn brilliant or me genre ignorant. The closest comparison I can make is Aeon Flux on steroids. While I was jarred by the unconventional narrative, it did pull me in, especially in the islands of prose where the story-telling was less bombastic and more grounded. Those anchoring points are interspersed with gyrations of perspective, flexible reality, and anachronisms (for example: Frank Sinatra being chased by spike-headed demonoid assassins from the future). Often the reader is challenged to guess what’s supposed to be real versus some psycho-trip in Demorn’s mind.
At the half way point of the novel things settle down to a more consistent narrative. There’s still the flirtations with real and unreal and unexpected viewpoint splits. The third section of the book requires some tenacity to get through because the sense of direction is so tenuous. I often caught myself wondering why the story was pivoting on certain bits of drama that didn’t seem to add. Elements began to get repetitive and redundant.
While I know there is a sequel, the whole long taunting dimensional head trip didn’t seem to have gone anywhere, and one of the main plot elements (Triton’s dimensional takeover) just disappears. Ultimately, it didn’t feel as though Demorn had really moved on and grown.
Execution: 1.0 – 5.0 – yes, 1 to 5, I’m not copping out. At my core I am comfortable with my conventions and stanch in liking my stories to be point-of-view consistent. The craziness with the narrative, ornamentation for diction’s sake (rather than meaning), made me crazy at times. The thing with single quotes rather than double quotes for dialogue bothered me every time of ten thousand occurrences. All my whining about story telling convention aside, at times I found myself marveling at the way some of the imagery was put together. Of course, the writing carpenter in me says, we shouldn’t be mugging for the audience. The work should float on the merits of the story and the characters, not be suspended from the tintinnabulations of poetic prose. My years as a writer and editor have perhaps made me too stodgy, so therefore forgive the fudging here to offset my admitted hypercriticality.
Setting/World Building: 3.0 – 4.5 – Author Finn paints with a broad brush oft dipped in psychedelic paint. Cast adrift in the storm, a lot is left to the imagination as we are dragged through one scene of another anchored by vivid and sometimes cringe-worthy detail. It topples and gyrates and for certain isn’t pedestrian. Kaleidoscopic fantasy is the niche I fit this into… mind-scapes, time-scapes, dream-scapes, dimensions and soul travel it’s all mashed together in a mélange of narrative diction. In that regard, I was fascinated to read further at times just to see if I was really understanding what was going on. The third section of the book tries to make some order of the chaos, but ultimately it’s simply impossible to rationalize all the craziness without a mountain of psychotropic exposition that thankfully wasn’t there to drag it down.
Characters: 4.0 – In the early parts of the book, the narrative is too busy storming and trying to impress for any depth of Demorn’s character to be seen. Most of her dialogue is trite and any hints at backstory are all tease. The scenes with other characters (her brother Smile), Tony and Toxis hint at things but nothing is clear. There’s so many illusions, dreams and false memory, it’s tough to believe anything. Midway to sixty percent of the way through the book, the narrative settles down and some of Demorn’s past and relationships start to take shape. The third section digs deeper, but mostly it’s more of the same, straightening out red-herrings and struggling to make sense of entropic mumbo-jumbo.
Overall: 4.0 – I hated Finnegan’s Wake and several other books called “classic” by my literary professors. So, maybe that means this book will be a classic too. I’m just one voice and know that not everyone shares my taste. Just because it challenged me and made me work doesn’t mean it’s not a terrific piece of writing. I think there are those who will embrace this bombastic battle-hymn poetic prose narrative. Some of the word craft is amazing. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for certain there will be those who are enthusiastically entertained.