the_author() rating onrating onrating onrating offrating off

TALES OF MU

Journey to Nowhere

By G.S. Williams, author of No Man An Island

May 8, 2012: I’m updating this review from its original form to reflect new developments in the story. Some of the material is from the original review to establish the story content, and then there is also new material about recent chapters.

The reason for this update is twofold: first, Alexandra Erin is a talented writer who has built an imaginative world from the ground up, with nuanced characters, history and cultures. That’s undeniable. However, the second point is this: the plot is disjointed, tangential, and increasingly annoying. Recent developments in newer chapters have been more focused and that’s actually a problem, because it points out how arbitrary the tangents were. This series is more than five years old, and essentially four of them have been mostly wasted. Read on to see the details praised, and the direction derided:

Tales of Magesterius University (frequently referred to as ToMU) is a coming-of-age story featuring the freshman Mackenzie Blaise as she attends college.

But MU is no ordinary school, and Mackenzie is no ordinary girl. MU’s classes are attended by skirmishers, necromancers, illusionists and clerics. Its hallways feature elves, golems, centaurs and nymphs. Its professors can teleport, evoke fire, read minds and contact other planes of existence.

And Mackenzie Blaise just happens to be a half-demon.

Debuting in June 2007, ToMU has captivated one of the largest online reader audiences, and its popularity is understandable. The author, Alexandra Erin, manages a diverse cast of characters, featuring multiple races, psychological profiles, histories and motivations. The serial touches on themes of racism, sexuality, religion and spirituality, morality and gender. Ms. Erin, often referred to as AE, is a brilliant writer, capable of action, comedy, horror and eroticism, all within the same chapter at times.

AE is a truly gifted writer, with nuances and details to spare in her long, ongoing tale. No one could question the imagination at work here, regardless of whether or not readers can agree with her viewpoints. And the debates in the comment section can be even more entertaining than the chapters themselves!

If I have any complaints about ToMU, they are on a personal, subjective level, and have nothing to do with the quality of the writing. My favourite characters are side characters, like the golem Two and the subterranean elf Dee. They have unique voices and interesting character arcs. Things that seem important to me as plot developments, like Mackenzie’s demonic heritage and hellish potential for evil, seem to be less important to the writer than her love life, which is the least realistic thing about the story. At last count, she had three committed lovers of varying species, and at least four other people interested in her. Not bad for a self-proclaimed anti-social repressed "nerd."

(My personal theory is that Mackenzie’s demonic powers affect the people around her, but that is yet unproven—if that turns out to be the case, what seems unrealistic will suddenly make sense. I’m mercurial, I am. However, her scent has been confirmed to cause responses in others.)

Mackenzie, Two and Dee are dynamic characters, changing over the course of the story. Amaranth, (a nymph) and Steff (a half-elf) are particularly static characters, spinning in circles within their own personalities and affecting Mackenzie and the plot as a result. Chapters featuring them tend to bore me. It’s not Amaranth’s fault: she’s semi-divine and unlikely to change unless she gives up her divinity to become human. And Steff is frozen in place by past trauma, a victim of abuse. It just gets boring to read about them for years and know only a few months have passed in "story time."

AE has recently skipped the story from Mack’s first semester to sophmore year,and all that’s really accomplished is to gloss over the plot developments of the previous year and give us a fresh dose of Mack adjusting to her classes. So far, despite flashes of brilliance in each indiviual chapter as writing for writing’s sake, the overall story has a lot of wasted opportunities regarding its massive cast and numerous subplots. The story lacks focus, and jumping from freshman year to sophomore seems mainly to have left a lot of those threads dangling.

Recently I decided to check on the story because I had heard it had developed a plot. What it’s done is finally focus on the plot that was always possible: Mack dealing with her demonic heritage, her evil father, the possessed pitchfork he stole, and the owl-turtle thing that Two dreamed up to deal with interfacing her golem nature with human beings. AE has finally started to get on with the story. While I used to wish for this, it makes the last four years of wandering around aimlessly seem like a deliberate waste of readers’ time. Worse, it makes the sophomore year jump unnecessary, because it puts the plot right back where it was in the first month of freshman year. The skipped year essentially didn’t need to happen, and seems like a lazy authorial device.

The more I analyze the text, the more I believe that there’s a lack of energy. AE can sketch interesting characters with personality, psychology and history. She can create worlds with multiple cultures and consistent rationales. But once the world exists and is populated, it doesn’t go anywhere. Mack’s life essentially rotates between the same few actions: self-deprecating over-analysis and shyness, awkwardly dealing with popular girls like Sooni, letting Amaranth dominate her, letting Steff use her, letting Ian rough her up, being the smart student in enchantment classes, being snarky with combat coach Callahan, brief interesting interludes with Two, Hazel and Dee only to recycle back through at the beginning of the list. On occasion there’s actual plot as her father and Mercy try to control her life, but otherwise not much happens but those same daily activities for chapters on end for years on end. It’s like a game of 3 card monte with the prize being actual plot, and you rarely see it because of the shuffle. It’s a repetitive story, and most of it is unnecessary.

Mack recently said "You can only live your life as a soap opera for so long before it starts to feel ridiculous." The story IS a ridiculous soap opera now.She also said "my life is . . . it’s like a study in perpetual anti-climax. Which sounds boring, but it’s not . . . sometimes it’s downright exciting, but it never leads anywhere. It’s like having all the stresses of a big build-up and never having the pay off." That is the most accurate summation of this story that I have ever heard and the author made it through the protagonist. It’s time to stop following this journey to nowhere before it jumps more sharks and falls off a cliff.

6 of 6 members found this review helpful.
Help us improve!  Request an invite or log in to rate this review.