Author at Wolfpup's Den

Surviving The Chaos (Sentinel)

Reviewed by Kathryn A on 21st October 2001 (1)

Every man and his dog seemed to be raving about this story, so I read it in hope. Alas, I was dissappointed. It did open promisingly enough, with an interesting run-down of "recent" history, and the opening drama of the story. Unfortunately, now that I think about it further, it was this very run-down that made some of the later things in this story hard for me to accept; specifically, the arrival upon the scene of one of those plot devices of which some TS writers are so fond, and I get irritated by -- the "instant instinct" reaction. As soon as Jim meets Blair (in fact, even before he does so, in this case), he is drawn to him, has to protect him, and so on. How can I justify such irritation when I've liked stories like "Masquerade" where exactly that kind of thing happens -- that Jim is drawn to Blair as soon as they meet? I've come to the conclusion that it's because such stories as that occur in the kind of parallel universe where psychic bonds (whether magical or psi) are given up front as the way Sentinels and Guides work, a universe where magic or psi is just par for the course. But in the canon universe (where there is no evidence for such instant connection) or in a universe which is similarly close to our mundane reality, I just can't buy it at all. And that's where the intro part of this story comes into the equation -- all that detail of how the Chaos happened, plonked it right down into a mundane universe, as far as I was concerned, so the "instant instinct" ploy just didn't work.

If it had been just a touch of that, I could have glossed it over, but, darn, the author kept on emphasizing what a hardass Jim had been before Blair arrived, and how completely and suddenly transformed he'd been as soon as Blair arrived on the scene, to the puzzlement of the people who knew him. Y'know, if this keeps going on, one of these days, a few universes over, Blair is going to be burnt at the stake as a witch, and Jim isn't going to be able to testify on Blair's behalf, because the testimony of a bewitched person isn't going to be listened to...

Actually, if I were to describe this story in two words, it would be "lacks subtlety". There were a number of places where we were just told things, and reactions of characters were forced and over the top in order to move the plot along. For example, Simon gets violent with Blair because he's touching Jim trying to get him out of a zone. Huh? Another point that made me wince was when Jim has to assure Blair that his virtue is safe with him, because Jim is offering him a bed for the night. Huh? I would have expected that to go without saying -- why did it have to be said? The first example of being clumsily told things is when Blair is first captured by the Bad Guys, and Chief Bad Guy (whom I shall not name) tells his henchman that Blair is very valuable... and then we get given a spiel about how said Bad Guy has a mental Talent to find people who were "special", and that he had detected that Blair was an Empath. Thing is, this Talent spectacularly fails to ever be exersized again, since this particular Bad Guy completely fails to pick up that Jim is a Sentinel (at least, not with his Talent). And note that in this bit we also get told Blair is an Empath, but we don't seem to be seeing any evidence of this until much later... when it seems that he isn't the kind of Empath one usually gets when someone makes Blair an empath in TS stories. I think that bit would have worked a lot better if it had simply been declared that Blair was valuable, without explaining how or why... not at that point.

Another example of lacking subtlety is what I call the "Essence of Pure Evil" problem, which one usually only runs into in bad fantasy novels. This is where Our Hero take one look at the Villain (expecially by looking in their eyes) and knows that they are Evil, without any other evidence.

The author also, unfortunately, did the Multiple-Personality-Disorder-Jim thing -- that there is the "pure Sentinel" personality which comes to the surface in times of stress, all primal and growly, and then there's the normal everyday Jim, who gets pushed aside by The Sentinel. I hated it when Susan Foster did it, I'm certainly not going to enjoy it here.

There were good bits, though, despite all that. One scene that sticks in my mind is the dramatic scene where an injured Blair who can't speak, is desperately trying to do so. That was good. There were some cool ideas, like what the Empathy really was, and the job they gave Blair at the end. It's just a pity that the execution was lacking.