Tag Archives: Michelle M. Welch

The Bright and the Dark by Michelle M. Welch

“…I had plans for a volume entitled Chasing Fire, to take place several decades after the events of Confidence Game. It was not intended as a sequel so much as another story sharing the same world; I found a place for Aron Jannes in it, but he was the only crossover character. I pitched this book to my publisher, but what they wanted was something more closely tied to Confidence Game, closer in time and featuring more of the same characters. So I placed The Bright and the Dark between the two, to act as a bridge…”
-Michelle M. Welch

I’m not entirely certain where to start. The Bright and the Dark is described as a “semi-standalone sequel”, which sounds like gibberish to me. It’s the second novel set in The Five Kingdoms sequence, and it has enough loose ends dangling around that one must read the third to finish everything off.

Where do I start? It’s been ten years since the events in Confidence Game. Elzith is in Sor’rai, recovering, transforming, losing humanity, gaining vision. Tod is in Biora, and he’s still a bookbinder. Julian is a Bioran, and he doesn’t want to join The Men in their big, strong, manly battles over the nature of light (a seriously surreal issue). Aron Jannes, secretive and alone, still hates his father.

Dalbion’s reign is shaky, and a plague is coming.

As a follow-up to Confidence Game, The Bright and the Dark has one shining virtue: Elzith’s narrative is pared down to a minimum, and most of the novel follows a third-person perspective. Elzith remains as the emotional – or do I mean visual – centre of the series, but in this book she takes more action, and is seen from more than one character’s perspective. It’s a big improvement from her last showing, though she’ll never be quite as attractive a subject as some of the other characters. A pity, given her importance.

As a biased consumer, I would have liked to have seen more of Tod in this novel, but Welch doesn’t have my sentimentality, and has ruthlessly used him only as much as he is needed. I wouldn’t call him “a boring character with an interesting voice” any longer. Maybe it’s the Mentor role he gently adopts – you gotta love the Mentors! – but I liked his moments in the text, whether seen from his point of view or someone else’s.

If Elzith seems to be the connecting line for the series, Julian and Aron were the emotional centres for this novel. I’m, admittedly, quite fond of the Polar-Opposites-Who-Communicate-Very-Well-With-Each-Other approach, but even so I think the Julian-Aron dynamic was nicely done. Welch has the wonderful gift of not overstating, allowing much of her action and emotional development to be inferred, rather than thrusting it down our throats. Better still, they work well even when they’re not together – they stand alone if they need to.

I had to read this novel before I understood how much of Confidence Game was a long info-dump process that served merely to lay out the rules of the Five Kingdoms so that the new story/stories could take place. World-building, subtle, detailed, not in-your-face. World-building is the current bug-bear of fantasy criticism, it seems – this notwithstanding that some of the best authors out there right now do their fair share (and sometimes more) of detailed world building. Goldilocks would like Welch’s approach, I think. Welch remembers that worlds have stories, too.

Again, an underrated novel. I suspect it was read less because of the flaws – such as they were – in Confidence Game, which is a great pity. This is a better novel, and its sequel promises to be just as good a read – for me, anyway.

The problem for many people, I think, will be Welch’s prose. I personally like her style – reading Welch is like placing your hand on cool glass and feeling tremors. It’s quiet, it’s subdued, it’s clear. It has the lucidity of stillness. It means that her plot flows naturally without having to stop and explain every plot event. I think that some people would read the novels and find them slow, and monotonous, judging from the reviews on amazon. It depends. But it has my vote, and I shall read Chasing Fire as soon as I can.

Click here for an excerpt.

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Confidence Game by Michelle M. Welch

“I had two intentions in writing this book. The first was to create the character of Elzith. Being intrigued by spy characters, I began to speculate about their motives and backgrounds, characteristics often missing from popular portrayals of spies. I found material to flesh out this character in a pair of documentaries: one on confidence artists and one on Romanian orphans with reactive attachment disorder. This led me to create a voice in which I could express issues that interested me: what makes Elzith a good spy, and what is the cost to her.
My second intention was to provide an introduction to the world in which Confidence Game is set…”

– Michelle M. Welch

I’ll be honest with you: It’s another trilogy, and it‘s called The Five Kingdoms, and Confidence Game is the first. The book I bought did not say so on the cover. Maybe it says so now, because, you know, the other two books are out and they can’t hide it anymore.

And I read this book a long time ago, and my memory of the details is a tad sketchy. It’s set primarily in the land of Dalbion, ruled by the Judges, as neat a setting of amorphous and detailed oppression you could hope to find unless you actually look at some RL governments or something equally depressing. We’ve got corrupt, scared, powerful, unhappy, tired individuals, some of who manage to be all of these things at once. We’ve got some magic, a little underground at present. We’ve got blood and gore and love and sex and all that hoohaa that one expects. Or doesn’t.

We have Elzith the spy, Tod the bookbinder, and whatsisname the scared Judge. Right. We have Elzith the spy, Tod the bookbinder, and Paloman the scared Judge.

You know what, let’s get the bad bits over with first, because they are, in fact, very bad indeed. Elzith is pretty much the emotional centre of this novel. This in and of itself is not a bad thing, but it means that she also gets what is, if I recall correctly, the only first-person PoV narrative. Everyone else who has a PoV hotspot is in third person. So every so often – not always, but often – it’s her musings we read.

Elzith is boring. Anyone who didn’t like FitzChivalry FarSeer’s narrative style might know what I’m talking about. Meandering philosophy, self-involved enough that you can open wine bottles with her psyche, lots of “I have ze big heavy passssst” subtext, supertext, middletext. But the PoV improves: she gets less heavy as she goes on, and by the middle of the book, she’s fine…

Tod, on the other hand, is her polar opposite: he is a boring person, with a fairly boring history, with a fascinating voice. Tod brings Elzith into focus (or maybe it‘s vice versa, because I‘m not going to try heavy handed literary analysis here) and makes her fascinating as she should be. It’s like magic, and in some ways it’s Tod’s function in the work, and even though while I am writing this it seems like he’s a lightweight with no role in the novel he still belongs in it (Martin fans who mention Ned Stark shall be scoffed at).

Good dynamic between the Bad Guys, nice representation of the various reactions to a fear-based economy, nice hints of ze-past-shall-kick-ze-future’s-butt…

Why should you read this novel? For one thing, (Please don’t hate me, Larry? I’m nice, deep down) the world-building is, methinks, detailed and scrumptious. I like the sense I had of an actual place, with history, geography I could keep in my head (At this point I cannot remember any maps, but I’ve written it down in a little notebook so obviously I could!), a slightly less rigid divide between peoples of different cultures than I was expecting…

…for another thing, Welch’s prose is… what’s the word I want to use? Fresh? Spare? Like cut glass? It’s not ornate, it’s not pretty, it feels… hmm. It fits the world she is talking about, it’s understated, energetic, and possibly volcanic. I like the style, for the most part it works.

It was an underrated novel, I think, and it received an extremely mixed reaction. Almost everyone hated something – almost never the same thing – and lots of people loved something – usually not the same thing. Maybe the hype wasn’t enough. Maybe the reviews weren’t uniform enough. I dunno.

Best I can say: Try it. You might not be wasting your time.

(She has a page of her own and it’s fairly easy to find, but I think the site gives you too many spoilers and so you shall have to find it yourself.)

[I wrote this almost half a year ago, on another site, but I’ll be posting a review for the sequel soon, and it seemed right to have this one here. Be complete and to thine own self true, and other things of that nature.]