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A peculiar and remarkable beast

By theredsheep, author of Pyrebound

Mar 22, 2019: Kinri is an outcast from an elite society that lives among the clouds. Childlike in many ways—exuberant, friendly, impatient, and insecure—she yearns above all else to be liked and accepted by the inhabitants of the forbidding mining community where she has settled, especially her new acquaintance Hinte. Hinte is an alchemist, the descendant of famous alchemists, and Kinri’s temperamental opposite; she is taciturn, competent, tactless, and stern. It’s plain to see how they could help each other, if only they could find their way to becoming friends.

I’m honestly not sure how to rate this story; it’s so completely unlike anything I’ve read before. What we have here is a big-world story told at a small scale with a tight focus—an epic creation examined with a microscope. A modern high fantasy, told like a nineteenth century novel.

Suppose that, when he created Middle Earth, Tolkien had decided to write a very different story from Lord of the Rings. All the fatal events of the book would still happen, but the storytelling would focus resolutely on the everyday and inner lives of the hobbits, unravel at a leisurely pace, and touch on the momentous events of the War of the Ring only insofar as it became relevant to the protagonists’ relationships and personal aspirations. We would hear a lot about farming in the Shire, and the difficulties of cross-class cooperation between landed families like Frodo’s and tenant families like Sam’s, and there would be lots of details about how hobbit-holes are built and how a gentlehobbit landowner passes his morning. And it would all unfold quite gradually.

This is, in essence, what you get with Endless Stars. As of this moment—Chapter Fifteen—the book is (I would guess) about a hundred thousand words in length, possibly more. Only a couple of days have passed in the story’s time, and the protagonists have not moved more than a few miles from where the story started. Much of significance has occurred, and you can tell that there is more story to tell, but details about the plot are parceled out sparingly.

It is far more generous with every other kind of detail; Snuggle/Alma has crafted a world more intricate than a Faberge egg, and we get to look at all of it. This is a world and society of dragons, almost all the characters are dragons, and the author shows an interest in biology, astronomy, linguistics, folklore, the way they intersect, and any number of other small details. For example, we get draconic idioms; an idea "fledges sense."

One one hand, this is bold, original, and far better crafted than ninety percent of web serial fiction, or at least the serial fiction I’ve seen. Typos and errors are rare—there are some odd issues in more recent chapters, e.g. designating a character as a "him" and then a "them" in a single paragraph—and the technique is sophisticated and generally polished.

On the other hand, like all experiments, it doesn’t always work out. At times the narrative becomes bogged down in the endless details; the protagonist, Kinri, spends something like a quarter of one chapter simply getting dressed. This kind of thing can get more than a little frustrating, especially when it alternates with tantalizing bits about danger and intrigue. It feels like the story stops and goes in spurts. You get multiple chapters in a row of action, then a couple of chapters exploring things like Kinri’s work life.

And, being so detailed, it’s not hard to get lost in the terminology. There’s a glossary, but it can’t keep up with the profusion of terms, and some of the exotic vocabulary isn’t even unique to the story. A lot of technical terms get used casually. If you didn’t know that "alula" and "hallux" refer to the thumb analogs of a flying animal’s wings and feet, respectively, you’ll be either looking them up or inferring from context. Either way, this is very far from a casual subway-ride read.

If you’re willing to invest in it, it will reward you with a romp through the author’s imaginative and colorful world. The story, when it moves, moves well, and seems every bit as original as its setting. Endless Stars gets four stars; inconsistent but still definitely "solid." Some determined wrench-work could move it up to "compelling" or "exceptional."

4 of 4 members found this review helpful.
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