Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: The Iron Ring - Lloyd Alexander

Synopsis: When Tamar, the young king of Sundari, loses a dice game, he loses everything - his kingdom, its riches, and even the right to call his life his own. His bondage is symbolized by the iron ring that appears mysteriously on his finger.

To Tamar, born to the warrior caste, honor is everything. So he sets out on a journey to make good on his debt - and even to give up his life if necessary.

Along the way he is joined by a fast-talking troublemaker of a monkey, a headstrong and beautiful young herdgirl, and a bedraggled eagle on his own quest for the irreplaceable jewel called the Fire Flower. Others join Tamar's group as they travel through a rich landscape steeped in myth, where animals talk, spirits abound, and magic is everywhere. Tamar becomes embroiled in a terrible battle between warring kings - one side representing good, the other evil. He is tested in many ways, especially on the sickening battlefield, and ultimately he is left to die at the burning ground. Tamar, never losing his pride, learns much - about the real meaning of honor, about goodness, and about the sanctity of life.

Review: While I certainly enjoyed The Iron Ring, it was not my favorite Lloyd Alexander book. While having a clearly Indian feel, this story still felt very eclectic with its numerous characters whose names start to blend into one, and who appear very suddenly, tag along for a little while, then disappear just as suddenly, though I will not complain about their not hanging around. Tamar already has too much of a retinue. I will always be of the opinion that too large of a traveling group ruins any good journey story. Rajaswami, Tamar's tutor, began to grate on my nerves, especially when it became clear that he served no real purpose but to spout some little wise saying every once in a while. And the ending battle was so convoluted with every single character suddenly appearing for a "final bow"; it was really confusing. To top it all off, the Reader later finds out that a demon has been pursuing them this entire time, trying to steal away a gem that turns out to be really important.

However, not all of it was bad (even if the dialogue was very choppy). Hashkat, the monkey, and Garuda, the eagle, are hilarious, well-done comic relief, and I missed them as soon as I closed the book. I did not much care for Tamar, but other characters - Mirri especially - made up for the lack of a relatively likable hero. And though it is obvious that Tamar is not going to die in any of his dangerous encounters, the Author managed to add enough of an element of suspense that I actually wondered a little in the back of my mind.

With a beautiful female character along, it's obvious that the hero is going to fall in love, and I dreaded this happening because it almost always gets in the way of journey stories. And of course, with a journey, the romance has to be sped up to a point that if real people got married after knowing each other for so little time, they would either be miserable for the rest of their lives, one of them would end up murdered, or they would get divorced. Hence why I am not a fan of "instant love." However, it somehow worked between Tamar and Mirri; it did not feel cheap, hurried, or shallow. I was greatly in support of their feelings.

Unlike other Lloyd Alexander books I have read, the ending to The Iron Ring did not feel slapped together. With other books - not all, but some - it almost felt as if the Author got bored with writing the story one day and just cobbled together an ending that was bizarre, unexpected, and thoroughly unsatisfying. That is my biggest complaint about Mr. Alexander's writing: his endings have always felt weak. And though this book's ending is predictable and kind of silly, it felt planned. Like he had intended it to end thus from the very beginning, and for that, I was satisfied with it.

Overall Rating: 

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