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Book Review: The Eyes of God by John Marco

* Author: John Marco
* Paperback: 784 pages
* Publisher: DAW
* Publication Date: January 7, 2003
* ISBN-10: 0756400961
* ISBN-13: 978-0756400965
* Author Website

The Eyes of God, by John Marco, is a work of fiction that leaves me of two minds. On the one hand, this epic novel is a fascinating novel that follows in the steps of the great Arthurian tragedies, on the other, it makes some sophomoric mistakes that individually are no big deal, but put together as they are in this volume the detract from the narrative.

The story is broken into three parts. The first section is background for the latter two. In it, three primary characters are introduced. Lukien and Akeela are brothers in all but blood, but Lukien is a former gutter rat turned Captain of the Guard, and Akeela is the new king of the Liiran nation. While on a diplomatic mission, both Akeela and Lukien are ensnared by the beauty of Cassandra (a rather ill-omened name) and what ensues is a love triangle that has repercussions into the next two sections of this 779 page mass market paperback. (On a side note, note that the first letters of the names of the tow male protagonists of The Eyes of God and that of the Arthurian tragedy match up. My mind makes some weird connections.)

The second two sections, taking place sixteen years later, are the result of the decisions the three characters make in the first. We are also introduced to a new protagonist, Gilwyn Toms, a cripple boy with a stub foot and hand, who ends up being the most truly noble character of the entire novel. In the latter sections a rift has occurred between Akeela and Lukien, and the story winds down to its resolution. Not to worry though, because even that is not the end of the story, as two more books follow.

John Marco has done several things very well. First, his primary characters are not black and white, but truly shades of gray. Though Lukien is probably the primary hero, the events related in the first section of the novel leave the reader very hard pressed to actively cheer the characters. In fact, in the first section, we want to cheer Akeela, and be on his side, even though it is obvious from the book’s cover who the story is really all about. In essence, between sections one and two, the “hero” character flips from on to the other of these two men. That is some daring writing, and Marco does it believably. Fans of The First Law trilogy will find Marco’s characters as appealing as Abercrombie’s, for much the same reasons.

Although I found the romantic story a bit rough, and a little slow, I think readers of romances will eat it up, and for those who are patient, there are rewards in the form of a few battles at the end of the book. But The Eyes of God is primarily a novel of characters, much like the work or Karen Miller or Brent Weeks.

Marco is also skilled at creating setting. Though he is highly descriptive of the rooms in which characters find themselves, he never lets it bog down the narrative too much. At times, I thought he over prepared the setting, but for readers who like to know more than the general idea of where the action is taking place, Marco might be your ticket.

Marco is also good at tying the long arc of his plot together. For a novel so long as it is, it is very consistent, and only follows a few characters. Especially important is the fact that characters are never used simply to move a story forward. If Marco uses a character, you can be sure that he or she will likely pop up again in an unusual place.

There are some things that Marco does poorly in this novel, however. For one, he overuses the word “suddenly”. Normally, that word is one I rarely notice, but Marco’s work made it evident that he was using it. Characters would too often “suddenly” do, see, or realize something. Marco simply was not paying enough attention to his sentence structure, since many times he could have re-written the sentence without much trouble.

Magic exists in this story, but it is not systematic. The lack of systematization is part of the story, but once or twice Marco gets lazy, and allows characters abilities he had not previously established, especially when Ghost speaks mind to mind with Gilwyn Toms. This allowed the narrative to move forward, but it was here and gone again, used only once for one scene.

There was some struggle with plotting as well. One pivotal plot point puzzled me for quite a long time, and although it is explained later in the book (I’m speaking of the injunction surrounding the amulets known as the Eyes of God) the lack of clarity was disorienting.

This novel is quite long, and not for the faint of heart. But I think that Marco, when this book was written in the early millennium, was doing and writing the very things that so many new authors are being praised for. His epic fantasy has tropes, but not the usual ones, and his focus on characters and near exclusion of magic make it more appealing to readers who dislike an excess of wizards and dragons. Marco’s characters are not cut and dry heroic types, and there is not a clear evil and a clear good. There are simply characters living with the consequences of their decisions. And those decisions have repercussions that affect the fate of entire nations.

I think The Eyes of God is excellent in many ways. It has imperfections, and its size will turn away the reader looking for a quick read, but there is much her for many readers to enjoy. There is romance, there is action, there are strange worlds, and magical mystery. But most important of all, there are real characters that have many good and bad traits. While I will not wholeheartedly recommend The Eyes of God, I do think that epic fantasy fans should look into it.