Review of Sinner by Sara Douglass
by Sara Douglass
Wait, was it November when I finished the first trilogy?? How is it June already? Wow. Anyway, as promised, I’m back with the first book of the second trilogy set in Sara Douglass’ Tencendor universe. Whereas I am certain I read the first trilogy as a teenager, I’m not sure if I ever read the entire second trilogy. So some of these books might be new to me? They all kind of blurred together. If you want to read my reviews “from the beginning,” here’s my review of The Wayfarer Redemption, aka BattleAxe, book 1 of the Axis Trilogy.
Sinner picks up 40 years after the conclusion of Starman, just in time for everything to go to shit again because Axis and Azhure are the worst parents in the universe. This is not hyperbole. We shall put them on trial soon, but first … the plot summary.
Minor spoilers in this review for this novel.
So yeah, it’s 40 Years Later. All the SunSoar children are all growed up. Caelum is in charge but doesn’t know what he’s doing, and there’s strife between two of the human princes because one of them can’t manage money and the other is weak-willed enough to be swayed by power-hungry noblemen into demanding concessions he should know better than to expect Caelum to grant him. Meanwhile, an existential threat from beyond the StarGate looms ever closer. It’s coming for artifacts buried beneath the magical lakes of Tencendor, and it’s bringing all the children that WolfStar threw into StarGate 4000 years ago. WolfStar is back, by the way, and not happy about this turn of events. So he has to work with the Star Gods, and with Caelum and the others, because as this enemy approaches, the Star Dance fades and therefore the Icarii enchanters are losing their powers. Meanwhile, Drago SunSoar, whom you may remember as the little shit of an evil baby who tried to have his older brother killed when Caelum was still a child, is moping around now that he’s a boring mortal like the rest of us. Embittered by his treatment at the hands of … well, everyone, almost … and unable to remember being an evil baby, Drago becomes a fugitive. Is he evil? Or just misunderstood? You be the judge!!
I’d forgotten how redonkulous these books are! Seriously, Douglass’ characterization is all over the place. One minute a character is thoughtful, seemingly three-dimensional, cognizant of the weightiness of their deeds. The next, they’re petty and flying off into rages. Yes, we humans contain multitudes, and no one can be sensible all the time. But Douglass seems to think that everyone has two modes: totally rational, thoughtful, honourable versus completely batshit psychotic. Some minor examples: Leagh vacillating every two pages about whether or not she wants to be with Zared; Caelum flipping out the moment anyone suggests he even consider being a little nicer to Drago (this is why you should talk to a therapist about your childhood trauma, especially if you’re the ruler of a multi-racial empire, just saying). The most significant offenders, far and away, however, are obvious Axis and Azhure.
Let the trial begin. The charges? Gross parental negligence.
Exhibit A: Axis and Azhure left Caelum on his own to rule Tencendor by himself. You might argue that, at about 40 years old, Caelum is an “adult” capable of making his own decisions. I would counter by reminding you that this is a very special circumstance. Axis and Azhure are directly responsible for the current state of Tencendor because they carved it up into its current territories. Now they’ve left to go play at being gods while their son has to deal with some cantankerous princes? It’s inadvisable for Axis to step in and save Caelum’s butt, of course. But that shouldn’t stop him from showing up and advising behind the scenes. (Then again, maybe we are all better off not having rocks-for-brains Axis around.)
Exhibit B: Axis and Azhure don’t care about Zenith and what she’s going through with Niah. Indeed, when Faraday so much as hints to Azhure that Zenith might not enjoy what’s happening, Azhure flips into complete-batshit-psycho mode and justifies Niah supplanting Zenith’s consciousness like NBD. Azhure literally doesn’t care about her daughter.
Exhibit C: Axis and Azhure’s mistreatment of Drago. This is a big one, and I’m totally on Drago/Zenith/Faraday’s side here. Was DragonStar wrong to help Gorgrael abduct Caelum? Of course! Yet Drago does not remember that crime, and he has paid for it. Worse still was the decision to keep him around his family in Sigholt when he could never truly belong to them or be trusted by them. If you were going to exile him the way you did instead of executing him, then exile him and get it over with.
Exhibit D: RiverStar. Because Axis and Azhure let her grow up into a shallow, self-entitled twit who is fridged for vague plot purposes.
The prosecution rests.
Speaking of fridging RiverStar … can we pause for a moment to reflect on all the violence against women in these books? To be fair, terrible things happen to men as well—yet the violence is still quite gendered. People single out Game of Thrones for its grimdark reading of fantasy, but Douglass is particularly inventive in the ways women are violated. From Leah to Faraday to RiverStar to Zenith to StarLaughter … I’m struggling to name a female character in this series who hasn’t been raped, assaulted, gaslit, or otherwise abused and mistreated, often in the name of “destiny” or something like that.
It’s very interesting to me, how many fantasy authors decide to replicate the structural injustices of our world in their fantasy worlds when you can literally build your worlds however you want.
Douglass’ world runs on prophecy, of course. Destiny. I’ve reflected in previous books why I find that boring, and that hasn’t changed here. Is the science-fictionalesque nature of the Star Gate and Timekeeper Demons and the ancient craft intriguing? Absolutely. I don’t think I would ever deny that Douglass has creativity and talent, nor do I question her ability to plot.
At the end of the day, Sinner is exactly what you would have come to expect, had you read the first three books of this series.