Is the single kindest word I can use to describe Jay Lake's Madness of Flowers. After reading it, I was rather forcefully re-convinced that Trial should have been remained as it was: a single, brilliant stand-alone. Madness does nothing but take away and tear down what was so carefully constructed in the first novel- and what's worse, is it leaves the reader wondering: why?
Why, for instance, is the pacing so godawful? This is a more technical point of complaint, but it's still one of the major ones. The first half of the book plods along at a sedate, rambling pace, and then somewhere around the three quarter's mark, things kick into overdrive. And not the good kind of overdrive either. An antagonist we've never even heard of is introduced literally in the last quarter of the book and we're all supposed to figure out what it is and what it wants...before it gets thwarted (?) less than a hundred pages later. One character stumbles his way around through a swamp for the majority of the book, only to successfully resolve HIS conflict in the last couple of chapters. As I was reading and nearing the end of Madness (pun intended), I kept thumbing through the remaining pages wondering if I had missed the announcement of a third book. It seemed impossible to me, with less than fifty pages to go, that all these disjoined, disconnected, and sprawling story lines could be tied off. Turns out, I was wrong. They were tied off. But in the most dissatisfying way I could have imagined.
Which leads me to major complaint number two. The ending. Don't get me wrong. I'm a big fan of the outside-of-the box kind of writing used by Lake and Mieville and VanderMeer. You don't go into their books expecting the formiac and the usual. But there's controlled bizarreness and then there's just over the top, what the hell is happening, this makes no sense, lunacy. Trial was tight, consistent with itself, and knew its limits. Madness goes way the other way and chucks all sense of logic out the window around the time of the big conclusion. It's as if Lake's editor went on leave, freeing him up to start scribbling nonsense over what was already a rather weak book. Giant wasps? Fine. Some bear possessed by some unexplained spirit? Alright. A character turned giant weeping tree with fruits for eyes? Oookay. The emergence of not one, but two new Old Gods no more than ten pages from the end? Uh... The death shout of a city? A translucent floating bubble of city essence?
Am I losing you, yet?
The problem with Madness was, it was a sequel to a book that needed no sequel. Trial had wrapped up everything in a very satisfying way. The baddies were defeated, the City survived, some characters lived, some didn't. But the point was: the story was over. To introduce a whole new and poorly resolved conflict in a second book just seemed, like my title states, unnecessary. There was nothing in Madness that added to the characters. Nothing that added to the City. But there was a lot that was taken away. Some examples follow below- with minor SPOILERS
- A main character dies halfway through in a very pointless and arbitrary way. Not only was it a terribly undeserving death for someone that had done so much, but it was also found out that he was bethrothed. And that his betrothed was coming to the City (again in the last fifty pages or so) to find him. What was the point of any of this? Who was this random fiancé we had never even heard about before? My guess was it was to tug at the heartstrings a bit, but considering we don't even get to see this woman's reaction to her fiance's death and considering it is implied she turns her attentions to his brother instead....I'm afraid I just don't get it.
- Terminus' tomb is another good example. In Trial, it was made out to be some legendary place, you know: hallowed, in every sense of the word. It was built up, built up, built up...but when the quest in Madness finally reaches it...It's sheer disappointment! Lake spent more time describing the pointless and aforementioned swamp blunderings of another character, than he invested in describing this: the main heart and soul of the book. We get an obligated: here's the tomb. The tomb was dark. Oh, and here's a bunch of frozen dead guys, before the party is chased out of there by the horrendously late antagonist. Suffice to say, it was completely unfulfilling.
Those are just two choice examples out of many, but in the end the ultimate question any reviewer should ask themselves is: would I recommend this book to someone?
And I'm sorry to say, that I can't. There are several people I know who I could easily prod into reading Trial, and who would like it- even if it was less mainstream than what they would normally read. But Madness (and I can't get over the irony of that title) is another beast entirely. The only people I could suggest it to would be hardcore Jay Lake fans and I'm not sure even they would like it. It's too disjointed. Rushed. Nonsensical to the point where it stops being `artsy' and `unique' and becomes frustrating.
In conclusion: if you enjoyed Trial and are excited about the thought of a sequel, approach this one with caution. It's not what you think it will be.