Warring States

by Mags Halliday

Mad Norwegian Press, 2005

In a lovingly observed novel, Mags Halliday takes us to the Boxer Rebellion for a tale of intrigue and conflict. There is no doubting the author's extensive research and we feel very much at home in the world depicted. The action scenes stand out as among the better in Who-related writing. However, whereas "History 101" (her previous novel) is arguably too complicated, the plot in "Warring States" is too thin. The book becomes a travelogue, pleasant enough, but hardly compelling. Events do start heating up towards the end of the book, but the finale is not satisfying. The various subsidiary characters and their relationships are abandoned, turning out to be mostly diversions, a disappointment when the central characters are the least colourful and the least well motivated. One feels that the author had more going on in her head than she was able to transfer to the page.

"Warring States" is just what you would expect a Faction Paradox novel to be like, which is perhaps its greatest mistake. Until now, Mad Norwegian have given us hugely different novels, each unexpected and each all the better for that. They have had a vast scope, a sense of an endless array of worlds. Yet "Warring States" is the story of a Faction Paradox cousin on a mission, with biodata and twisted timelines, and a pair of plot twists that have already been done in the range. The result makes the Faction Paradox universe feel small.

While not a bad book by any means, "Warring States" is too slight. A combination of the more accomplished prose of "Warring States" with the thematic complexity of "History 101" would be tempting. As it is, if I may use these words of faint praise, "Warring States" is a David McIntee novel done well.

Henry Potts, updated 19 Feb 2006

Originally posted to the Jade Pagoda mailing list.

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