Lots of little logical puzzles. Nothing too deep. Usual parade of 1914 baddies - foreigners, assertive women and the occasional solicitor.
Not for those looking for an action-packed plot. Nevertheless an insightful glimpse into middle-class, late-nineteenth century Dutch society, the proximity of colonialism, the stifling obligations of respectability, the comforts and the constraints that the small-souled characters are unable to challenge or escape.
Read this book. Do read this book. Particularly, perhaps, if you've wandered into the Fantasy section in an idle moment and are slightly embarrassed to be here. However, if you are new to Elissa Malcohn, don't read TelZodo yet - start at the beginning of the Deviations series and work through. My only substantial criticism of this novel is its beginning. The action commences 15 years after the preceding 4 novels in the series and the introductory chapters go through lots of catching up which is rather slow going, despite (or because of) all the sex, and might well discourage readers meeting the characters and situation for the first time. Once over this initial bump the novel is very well crafted, and hard to put down.
Malcohn is a very thoughtful story teller. Together, the Deviations series employs an ethnographer's 'thick description' to explore how two races deal with the intractable fact that one, the Masari, must eat the flesh of the other, the Yata, to survive. At one level the stories focus on the detail of culture; the artefacts and rituals and the social obsession with drinking herb tea. At the same time, Deviations deals with the ethical, political, economic and emotional consequences. Its characters are complex and evolving; none of them have unchallenged possession of the moral high ground. 'Malcohn's World' consists of a series of contrasting but linked pairs of communities (one Masari, the other its Yata meat-source) which each operate a different means of delivering Yata meat; from a religious sacrifice, via bouts of contained warfare, to a card game. The Masari as well as the Yata become a food source, and Malcohn looks long and hard on the 'human' costs of killing sentient beings for food.
The stories traverse an increasingly claustrophobic geography which pins the resulting flux of power, sex, violence and trade to the varied topographies of these communities. The plot ranges across warfare, economic change, resource scarcity, industry and wage labour, science and its limitations.
Since Telzodo deals with a period fifteen years after the earlier novels, the thematic focus of this novel also extends an earlier theme about history, memorialization and the cultural and emotional need to recover and register the past, in particular its atrocities. Characters live on through the written traces they leave in the record and the act of remembering, recuperated from the earlier era of sacrifice and atonement for the killing, becomes central to Telzodo's sense of self. Being half Yata and half Masari, Telzodo is also caught in the predicaments of mixed race, which also come to haunt these societies. There are echoes here of the impact of modern imperialism in the 'real' world Malcohn's World is also, of course, our own post-imperial, war-torn world in a era of dawning austerity.
Its the Magnificent Seven, only with a red moon (and a black one). The mindless and extreme violence of the demon-touched raiders turns out to be not so random after all. Readers who are absorbed by detailed descriptions of physical combat and sword-play will find plenty to interest them. However, even lopped limbs, crushed skulls and spilled guts can get repetitive in the end. I'm afraid I lost sympathy with it after the umpteenth disembowelling and skip-read the last third.