My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This work is engaging, enticing, and magical. And it puts Baxter in a position where, dare I say it, his future works will be anticipated, but also closely watched.
As a critic, writing a review of anything authored or produced by a friend is fraught with danger. Many reviewers are unable to divorce themselves from their well-wishes of their friends, and can’t put themselves in a position where they are disparaging the artwork produced by people with whom they have any kind of relationship.
I am not one of those. Let it be known: If I think something is shit, I will not hesitate to be honest about it, regardless as to whether the artist is a friend, a family member, or even my husband.
Baxter has an engaging style about his works, and his characters tread that very fine and difficult line between deep characterisation and the thinner, less satisfying, and less realistic characters common in pulp, trash, and junk food fiction. With each subsequent work, his control of this balance becomes more skilful.
In Bound you will meet familiar characters: Isiah and Petra we know from Realmshift and Magesign, and both make cameo appearances. But the protagonist is rather more familiar to me. He’s a fighter, he lives in NSW, he lives outside the city, he leads a relatively simple life. Hi, Alan, I can see you waving from this guy.
The story has been spun in many different ways, in different tales, different forms, and in different times, formats, and mutations. Bound tells the story of Alex Caine and the remarkable powers he possesses, comes to possess, and that nearly destroy him. It’s a battle of wills, and time, and space-time. We find characters like the Dark Sisters, who are reminiscent of the three witches from the film Stardust, yet in a far more alluring, and much darker form. And the antagonist is really an ‘inanimate’ object, and the battle of self.
It is engaging, enticing, and magical. I can’t write much more than this without ruining the book for you.
As a reader, I do not consume particular genres. I’m not well read in dark fantasy as a genre, unlike possibly everyone else who has read and critiqued this work. I do, however, gravitate in a general sense, towards excellent Russian works. The writer Lukyanenko is an artist of remarkable talent. I mention this because Baxter’s contemporary style is reminiscent of Lukyanenko (and his translater, of course). Whether Baxter’s talent is as robust as Lukyanenko remains to be seen; I’ve yet to encounter an artist quite so talented as the Russian in tying up a story so well.
This is all very high praise. But the book is not without its problems. The relationship between Caine and Silhouette is pushed actually to its limits at about halfway through the book. The struggle Caine is experiencing, and the relationship with Silouette stagnates before it finds its feet again. I actually found myself exclaiming aloud, “Yes, yes, we’re past this already and we need to move on now.”
This is not an idle comment. Similar issues with the characterisation were also in the Realmshift/Magesign works. The characters reach a certain limit ahead of the story and can’t move until XYZ occurs – and this is where it happens. If this issue of character and story can be resolved in future works, then they will be much more powerful, and will stop pushing the reader out of the work. This may also come with greater exploration of the nature of character, too. Depth of character is difficult in an action story, but the two are not irreconcilable.
Bound is a very enjoyable work. I hope that the next two works are as powerful as this one. If they are, then Baxter will have delivered us a trio of works of sincere substance, and herald well for the future of his career with HarperVoyager.