Odalisque: A bad set-up novel

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review: Fiona McIntosh Odalisque Percheron SagaOdalisque by Fiona McIntosh

When I picked up Odalisque, it looked very promising. Fiona McIntosh creates an interesting harem setting (think Ottoman Empire) and some lively characters. Unfortunately, Odalisque doesn’t live up to its potential.

The characters are almost totally one-dimensional. All of the good guys are nice and humble while all of the bad guys are cruel and ambitious. Lazar, the main (and most likeable) character, is an amazing warrior, yet throughout the story he sits back, clenches his jaw, and watches all of the bad guys do bad things. He really feels bad about this, but he never stands up for justice. Even the young Zar, a good guy who’s theoretically in charge, lets his cruel mother (a concubine) and a couple of servants run the show, brutally killing people who have gotten in their way. Why won’t the Zar and Lazar stop them? Because it’s the rules. Why don’t they change the rules? Because they can’t. Why can’t they change the rules? They’re not allowed to. Why not? Because it’s the rules.

Most of the action is in the form of dialogue-driven political intrigue. I found this boring and had no urge to stay up late to keep reading, so it took me a long time to get through Odalisque. Much of the plot was easily foreseen and too much of it was explained in advance, leaving the reader completely unimpressed by plot twists.

The writing was fine, but not exceptional. Again, too much was explained. I don’t need to be explicitly told that what someone just said was a “cleverly couched yet nonetheless direct insult.”

Odalisque didn’t live up to my expectations. Fiona McIntosh didn’t make much use of her exotic setting; It could have been so fascinating.
In fact, the entire novel felt like it was just a set-up for the sequel. Perhaps Emissary will be better. Certainly the setting and the characters have potential.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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