Tersias

Tersias

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my review of these novels [here] and [here].

Tersias was written by G.P. Taylor and first published in 2005. It is a Christian horror story set in an alternate version of Georgian London and forms the third part of The Shadowmancer Quartet. This novel was preceded by Shadowmancer (2002) and Wormwood (2004) and followed by The Shadowmancer Returns: Curse of Salamander Street (2006). Although it technically follows on from the events of Wormwood, Tersias does not contain any of the same characters or require any knowledge of the events of its precursor and so could be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel.

The comet Wormwood has now passed and London escaped destruction, however the city has still fallen into decay. Fallen chunks of ice have destroyed many of the major landmarks and left a majority of the city dwellers too frightened to return. Those that remain live a life of constant debauchery and crime – circuses perform in the streets and beggars and thieves haunt the shadows. It is not long before something worse still begins to rise.

When the failed magician Magnus Malachi purchases Tersias – a blind twelve year old boy – he originally hopes to use the boy’s disability to line his pockets. However, he realises that Tersias is much more valuable when he finds that the boy has visions of the future. An invisible creature known only as the Wretchkin comes to Tersias and whispers the answers to questions in his ear, all of which turn out to be true. Seeing that he could easily make his fortune Malachi puts the boy on display, however this quickly draws the attention of some very dangerous men.

Lord Malpas has just been robbed by a pair of highwayman – teenage Jonah Ketch and his partner-in-crime, Tara. They have taken from him two powerful artefacts and he desperately needs them back. The crazed zealot Solomon also has an interest in Tersias’s power as he believes that the oracle is destined to be at his side when London finally falls to its vices – an end that he intends to spur through use of his genetically engineered monsters. While they all seek to use Tersias for their own ends, a worry lies in the boy’s mind. Just what is the Wretchkin and is it a being of good or evil?

If you read my last two reviews of G.P. Taylor’s work, you may recall one very important fact. I hated them. While Wormwood was slightly better than Shadowmancer, the novels still remain as two of the worst things that I have ever reviewed. They were poorly written, contained characters that ranged from 2-dimensional cut outs to utterly loathsome and preached a very heavy handed, offensive Christian message. You may be pleased to hear that Tersias is a marked improvement on its prequels. That’s not to say that it’s a good novel by any means but at least I’m pleased that this isn’t going to be another angry review.

The setting of this story is, quite frankly, excellent. I love the detail that Taylor has put into his grimy, apocalyptic London. A lot of this comes across in tiny details such as the desolate wasteland of Green Park and the packs of wild dogs that roam the “valley” of Hampstead Heath. There is nothing pleasant about this vision of the City. Everything is dark and dreary, bodies litter the streets and people beat out a meagre existence by being generally unpleasant to one another. Taylor spends a lot of time describing London, making plentiful references to muck and mould and damp, and this creates a very vivid image in the reader’s mind that suits the tone of this story perfectly.

However as I read on I found that, beyond the imaginative setting, there was nothing especially enjoyable about the novel. It had a few interesting moments, particularly early on, which made me curious about what would happen but it never really captivated me. I think this was mainly down to Taylor’s writing. Although he clearly has an image in mind about what he wants to portray, he does not seem to be an especially strong writer. The author loves his similes but seems to use the same ones over and over. The phrase “like a scalded cat” is used on at least four occasions during the novel. Frankly, I’m not even sure what that even means. Is it angry? Scared? Having never scalded a cat before, I’m not sure how exactly one would behave.

The text of the novel is also incredibly purple, wasting lavish descriptions on the most mundane of things. Here is how Taylor describes people singing:

“The sound became like the mournful groan of a white whale, pierced and bleeding in a cold sea”

These constant, overly dramatic descriptions quickly make the novel tiring to read. As the font is especially small and dense in this book it really felt as though it was twice as long as it actually was.

The story, as with Taylor’s earlier work, also suffered from being stuffed with far too much irrelevant detail which ultimately went nowhere. There were a whole bunch of plot threads that turned out to be utterly pointless. Why was Jonah haunted by Black Shuck? No idea. The creature appears to have always been after him but the story never tells us why. It also doesn’t explain what the creature that Tara sees in the mirror actually is or what is behind the hingeless door that Tesias discovers in Solomon’s lair. If the story had cut out some of these tangents it would have been far more readable and would have left more space for the author to flesh out his characters.

The ending is also incredibly weak. This seems like a reoccurring problem that Taylor has. He has many grand ideas and builds up for an epic climax, yet seems to falter at the last hurdle. The ending was very fast-paced and confusing, dispatching all of the bad guys in quick succession while explaining nothing. It’s not even very clear what the Wretchkin is in the end beyond an evil possessing force. After this, everything is wrapped up in an incredibly saccharine way which involves dead heroes returning to life. Seriously, if magic in this series is evil why is it that people who worship Riathamus able to perform necromancy? It just raises too many questions.

Yet Tersias did manage to deliver its message in a far less preachy way that either of its precursors. I criticised both Shadowmancer and Wormwood for the fact that they painted people with non-Christian beliefs – including Jews, Pagans, Scientists and Atheists – as being evil and/or stupid (as well as being destined for an eternity in the fiery pits of Hell). While the Christian message in Tersias was still very important to the story, it was also a lot more subtle. Christianity is not all about punishment and sacrifice in this story, it’s about spiritual restoration and the search for the true meaning of our existence. While this contradicted the message of Wormwood, which held that the search for knowledge led to sin, it still made for much nicer reading and made clear that anyone could redeem themselves, no matter how horrible they had previously been.

This unfortunately leads to my largest problem with the novel. I despised the entire cast. Every single last one of them could have been wiped off the face of the planet and I would have rejoiced. They consisted of some of the flattest and most selfish human beings that have ever been put to paper. The only exception is Tersias, yet he never really gets to be a character in his own right. He only exists to be a plot device – a way to ensure that all of the characters are pitted against each other. He barely says and does anything beyond this.

The story has two villains – Malpas and Solomon – both who are out for their own ends. Malpas’s whole motivation is to prolong his own life while Solomon wants to be revered as a God (although all of his miracles are just parlor tricks). Both are just irredeemable human beings who will kill indiscriminately to get what they want. Yet, the protagonists are not much better. Malachi treats Tersias’s appallingly until he loses him and then undergoes an immediate change of heart, growing concerned and even expressing love for the boy. Nothing really sparks this transformation. It’s just a case of him being hit over the head and seeing the light. Jonah has a similar transformation, though his takes longer to occur. At first he is a thief and a coward, leaving his friends in danger to save his own hide again and again, and he only has a change of heart during the climax when he finally realises what is most important in his life.

However, the character that annoyed me most of all was Tara. I think it’s clear now that Taylor can’t write women at all. Both Kate and Agetta were incredibly weak-willed women who only really existed to get things wrong and be rescued, yet Tara is a stage worse again. Tara starts out as a strong woman who gets captured and brainwashed by Solomon. After this, she becomes a mindless drone, stripped of all her personality, doing Solomon’s bidding without question and obsessed with obtaining the magical McGuffin box. And she never recovers. This is it for her character arc. She becomes a zombie and remains that way forever. What a great ending for the book’s only major female character.

Well, this is running really long so I’ll wrap things up here. Tersias is by far the best book in this series so far as it has a decent setting and is nowhere near as preachy as the previous novels. However, I still wouldn’t call it a good book. Its text is very purple, its characters are unlikable and its plot contains too many random threads. Hopefully, we’ll see even more improvement in Taylor’s work when we eventually get to the final book of the series.

Tersias can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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