Review: Transformation by Carol Berg

There's no better time to review a book than right after one finishes translating it. The book is etched in one's brain, and unless the book is odious, one tends to be positive towards it, and more prone to pointing out its merits than its flaws.

That's how I came up with a mostly positive review of the Wheel of Time series, for instance. Unless the translation experience is truly horrific (in which case, I won't write a review, as I don't publish negative reviews of books published by my colleagues in the Israeli SF market, regardless of whether or not I translated them), this rule has been quite firm.

But even without the rose tinted glasses of the post-translation afterglow, I'm pretty sure I would have really liked TRANSFORMATION, which is that rare beast: a highly original high fantasy novel.

The plot combines a coming of age story with a very interesting take on the Campbellian hero's journey, in which the hero is far from being a young innocent who discovers his own glory, but a former hero turned slave who must rediscover himself for another's glory.

The books strongest point by far is its characters, an ensemble cast of nobles, slaves, and magicians, highlighted by one of the finest characters I've encountered in this genre, the book's co-protagonist, Prince Aleksander Zha Denischkar. Aleksander is the protagonist of the coming of age part of the tale, an arrogant, cruel, vainglorious young man who is, much like an ogre or an onion, not bereft of layers. But those layers are only peeled at great duress, and Aleksander's tranformation is the main motor that drives the story.

The co-protagonist and narrator, longtime slave Seyonne, isn't as interesting. He's a do-gooder who was basically forced to become a complex person through 16 years of bondage. I'll admit I have a slight bias against Seyonne for two reasons: He whines a great deal, especially during the first half of the novel, which is quite understadable under the circumstances, but it's just something I hate translating. And he obsesses about clothing to an unreasonable degree. I understand that Berg wanted to convey a sense of the world her characters inhabit, and clothing is a part of that, but I just can't imagine a slave who hates his masters noting, or even caring about, every item of clothing they wear. But Seyonne grew on me, and by the end of the book, I was quite fond of him. Good thing, too, as he is the main character in the books' two sequels. Yup, there are sequels, which eventually form a trilogy, but TRANSFORMATION stands very well on its own two feet. I tells a complete story.

The plot has many twists and turns, and won't benefit very much from a summation. I say that it is a story of the demons withing people, both metaphorical and very real ones. It's also a story about love, and betrayel, and politics, and culture. And it is, maybe more than anything, a story about change.

It's highly recommended to fans of high fantasy, epic fantasy, and books with strong characterization of all genres.

3 מחשבות על “Review: Transformation by Carol Berg”

  1. "There's no better time to review a book than right after one finishes translating it. The book is etched in one's brain, and unless the book is odious, one tends to be positive towards it, and more prone to pointing out its merits than its flaws."
    Ah, Stockholm Syndrome. 🙂
    You make no mention of the color and texture of the book's world, which you say the author goes to some effort to convey. Is it Pseudo-Tsarist Russia (as I guess from the first name you mention)? Is the magic central or peripheral, traditional or novel?

  2. It isn't really a parallel of any historical culture. The main empire, the Derzhi, are a desert tribe which has built a huge empire, conquering all sorts of other cultures.

    Most of the book does not take in the desert, however, but in the cold northern reaches of the empire.

    The technology isn't very advanced. Swords and horses are the main means of weaponry and transportation.

    Magic is central to the story, but peripheral to the world, as the Derzhi fear it and tend to kill or enslave anyone with significant power.

  3. No, actually posted by Achmo:

    If *anyone* is a whiner it's you! How dare you whine about Seyonne's completely reasonable explanations of his dire circumstances and call them "whining". And he just has a keen eye for detail, is all, not obsessed with clothes. Also, he looks real hot on the cover. Also, I love him.

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