Saved by a Wonderful Conclusion
I was drawn into this book in the first few pages. The imagery was amazing; I could feel that I was present in the world Kay created. I thought I would love the book, that it would become something I foisted upon my friends with delight and fervor. Then, unfortunately, I kept going.
As wonderful as the beginning thirty or forty-five pages were, they simply weren't good enough to carry most of the remainder of the book. The only word that really comes to mind is "slog," though it's both too much and not enough. I suppose "uneven" is better. There were moments that I truly enjoyed reading and others, mostly related to the nearly missing story, that made me want to throw it away in disgust. A few of the problems:
- The sex was ridiculous.
- The characters were far too ... big. They had a larger-than-life, in your face aspect that was difficult for me to accept.
- When change happened, it seemed like it came simply out of nowhere or was narrated in.
- There was really no reason to care about them, except for how great the author told me they were.
- They were far too agnostic, open-minded, and without prejudice to be believable.
- The story really should have just been set in Spain with Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
- Why on earth do we need another story with the "strong female character" in love with the two strong male characters?
As those problems wore on and on, only a few things kept me coming back. First, the humor was very well done - subtle, rare, and meaningful. It was a delight every time it popped up. Second, the prose was, for the most part, very nice. So much of this was a treat to read individually that it helped me move through the novel's slow center and ignore the problems I had with characterization. Finally, the story itself started to take shape around the time of a carnival.
Those last hundred or so pages were magnificent, and made the middle slog entirely worth it. The problems either disappeared or were minimized as all of these characters I'd been painfully watching for 400 pages coalesced into roles that made sense, had those roles ripped from them, and became icons or idols for various causes or themes. There was great sacrifice and great sadness, and I don't regret that time I spent in Kay's world.
Were I to judge sections, the first 50 or so pages would get four stars, the final hundred five, and the remainder two. I'll split the difference and call it three, leaning to three and a half. It's a worthwhile read, despite its flaws.