A review of The Temple at Landfall (Celaeno #1) by Jane Fletcher

Online summary: Lynn feels more like a prisoner than the chosen of the Goddess. Transfer to another temple is her chance to taste a little freedom on the journey, but all does not go to plan and her dull life is shattered by the dangers and choices that await her.

My review: As usual, I’ll assume anyone reading this has already checked out the book’s plot summary on Goodreads, Amazon, or elsewhere. Since others have extolled some of the virtues of the The Temple at Landfall, maybe I’ll have a go at a few of the detractors.

First, the romance: Some have complained about the briefness of Lynn and Kim’s time together before they’re separated. Personally, I think Fletcher quite adequately shows their growing attraction, albeit subtly, and there is more than enough time spent at the way station, after the snow lion attack, for strong feelings to develop. Incidentally, I liked that it occurs without any physical closeness, not that I have any aversion at all to sex scenes, but, given Lynn‘s background, they would be out of place so early on. It’s once Lynn arrives at Westernfort that I think things proceed too quickly. I’d like to have seen the couple gradually spend more time together, so their first time together doesn’t have that instant lesbianism feeling of bad girl/girl flics.

It’s also been suggested that, given Lynn’s inexperience, what she feels may be just a crush, and that’s not without merit. But, you know, first romances can sometimes be “the real thing,” your first crush can be “the one.” I think what makes the romance work is Kim’s character. she’s really not quite the “player” the Rangers portray her as. But, again, I would like to have seen things develop more slowly. The “avoid, avoid, avoid, have sex” thing doesn’t quite work. The sex scene, when it comes, though, is nicely written, and its mild eroticism doesn’t feel at all gratuitous.

I’m surprised, and a little dismayed, by all the various objections to the introduction of science-fiction elements. (Please, please don’t say “sci-fi. Okay?) This really isn’t a fantasy novel, as some have suggested. I had only read a few pages when I began wondering where these people came from, as it‘s clearly not a post-apocalyptic society on Earth. After a few more pages, I wanted to know how the technology of imprinting originated, and it is technology, make no mistake. By the time Lynn and the nuns, in the company of the Rangers, set out for Landfall, my interest had become captured by the characters, and those earlier questions may have been put on hold, but they were still there.

To those who complained that the science-fiction elements were intrusive, on the contrary, they’re the essential underpinning of the tale. Without them, there’d be no story. What, some witch casts a spell and suddenly certain women can manipulate DNA and transfer genetic material? Sorry, not buying that this could be pure fantasy in any way, shape or form.

I imagine such complaints mostly refer to the appended journal of Peter McKay. For me, it’s a perfect ending to novel, nicely, even poignantly answering the questions raised earlier. For those who suggest it should have been placed at the beginning, I think that might well have ruined the novel, taken away the mystery of how the highly advanced technology of Imprinting exists in a society on a level somewhere between the Roman Empire and the medieval period. In addition, it would have made technology the focus rather than the characters and the conflict between Sisters and the Heretics. Placed at the end, when we’ve invested ourselves in the characters and the world Fletcher has built, the diary seems almost nostalgic, and a satisfying denouement.

At least one reader complained about how, in the absence of men, some women essentially “become” men, even in the absence of a sexual duality. I assume she means the self-centered, belligerent, dictatorial, power mad, reactionary demagogues. In other words, some women in this society become “the bad guys”, so to speak, which that reader equates with men.

Sorry to disappoint the Robin Morgan/Andrea Dworkin types out there — and, honestly, I completely understand and sympathize with your righteous anger — but good/bad is a human trait, not a gender-based one. Hope that doesn’t smack too much of Manicheism for your taste. In any society, hierarchy is going to arise, and there are always going to be the “haves” who want to hold on to whatever it is they have, particularly if it’s power. To call the authoritarian characters in Fletcher‘s novel “substitute men” is to fail to understand the human condition.

I like the book a lot. I thought the characters were great, especially Kim, and enjoyed the world Fletcher has created. To be sure, some elements were predictable, but, the story itself was enjoyable enough and the characters likable enough, to overcome that.

So, why only four stars? While the writing was competent, I though it could have been better. When I was finished, I felt about Fletcher a little like I do about Jo Rowling: great storyteller, but just okay as a writer. I no way was the writing bad, I just thought it wasn’t up to the level of the story itself. The exception, I felt, was the diary at the end, which wouldn’t be out of place in any annual collection of the year’s best science fiction.

My other problem with The Temple at Landfall is that the villains of the piece, some of the Sisters and Major Rozek, are painted with such a broad brush as to be more caricature than character.

That said, I would definitely recommend this and will certainly read the rest of the series at some point.

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