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:: Auralia's Color(les)s

Auralia's Colors: The Red Strand (The Auralia Thread #1)Yet again, a book I desperately wanted to like but didn't. The premise sounded intriguing: the king of Abascar, a kind of city-state, decrees that all things of color and beauty be "donated" to the castle and everyone will from then on wear only shades of grey and brown ("Abascar's Winter"). At some indeterminate point in the future, he promises that all will be returned to the people and Abascar will be brighter and more beautiful than ever ("Abascar's Spring"). But one young woman, a mysterious foundling raised by the Gatherers (men and women exiled for petty crimes; they live outside Abascar's walls and hope to be readmitted at the annual Testing), knows how to draw colors from nature and create beautiful things for her friends. Auralia's colors eventually spark (literally) changes in the city.

OK, so far so good. But the author leaves massive holes EVERYWHERE. Explanations, if given at all, are so thin as to be transparent. Why would the people agree to this nonsense? What's his motivation in the decree (come to that, what are the motivations of ANY of the characters)? Why isn't there a thriving black market in colorful stuff from the other cities? Who are these Beastmen and why haven't they been stamped out long ago by the other cities? Why was Jaralaine so unhappy and why on earth is she being held prisoner by them??? What the hell is wrong with the King all these years? Why is the annual event called the Testing when nobody is tested? Why was Scharr ben Fray exiled? Why does Stricia completely lose it when she finds out she doesn't get to be Princess? What are these Northchildren and are they real or imaginary? WTF is this Keeper that everyone dreams about and why does he, or it, even matter? Then there is the very bizarre denouement of the story which a) is way too melodramatic, b) makes no sense whatsoever, and c) has nothing to do with Auralia or her colors! (It's all down to jealousy and the fact that alcohol is flammable.)

Worst of all, the central pivot of the story -- the fact that Auralia's colors have some kind of magical power -- is only ever mentioned in passing!! She has no idea that they do (in fact she says they don't). The first time it's mentioned is third hand, when one of the Gatherers says that so-and-so's breathing was better when he wore a yellow scarf that Auralia made for him. Why didn't so-and-so himself mention it? Or better yet, why didn't we see this happen?

Everything that happens in the story has this same third-hand feel to it, as if the most fascinating bits are happening off screen and we only get glimpses of them or hear about them later. Good characters jump off the page, make you feel like you've met them; these characters come across like mannequins that the author moves around. The author invents weirdly-named animals and plants for no apparent reason (vawns? why not just have them ride horses like normal people??). The characters are paper cut-outs, one-dimensional and cliche: the mad king, the noble prince, the stalwart and loyal soldier, the mysterious foundling, the exiled wise counselor. The fact that the most interesting and complex character in the whole book is the guy who tortures people in the dungeon, who appears for a total of about 5 pages, should tell you how limp and pale the rest of them are.

I ended up just skimming the last hundred pages. Don't waste your time.

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