The Golden Key (to which it is a prequel). Both are multi-generational epics, with a focus on families, as opposed to a single protagonist.
In that sense, The Diviner is really two books, with a rather abrupt change of both plot and pace about halfway through, as Azzad al-Ma'aliq gives way to his son, Alessid. The problem is that the son cannot hold a candle to his father, either in personality or deeds. Azzad is a wonderful character, a man who rises above his flaws to become more than just means of retribution. He develops as he matures, exposing hidden facets of his personality that make him more endearing as the story progresses. I loved him as a hero, as a father, as a husband, and as a warrior. He is, without a doubt, one of Melanie’s strongest characters. It’s just a shame the book couldn’t remain focussed on him.
Alessid, by contrast, is entirely unlikable from the start, and what limited development he displays is, unfortunately, in the wrong direction. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at first, understanding where he’s come from and what kind of legacy he’s inherited, but he was a disappointment. I neither liked nor respected him, and every time he disparaged his father’s memory (which is far too often), he simply reminded me of the gulf between the two.
In all fairness, Azzad’s half of the novel was the far more interesting story, briskly paced, and interspersed with a few moments of reflection. I cared about what was happening, and I found myself anxiously turning pages, desperate to know what would happen next. Alessid’s half of the novel was far less interesting, sluggishly paced, and bogged down with far too many marriages, births, and alliances. Instead of being anxious to find out what happens next, I found myself desperately flipping through pages, hoping to pick up a thread of story that would pull me back in.
It’s a shame Melanie couldn’t maintain the magic of the first half, because there’s a lot about the story to like. If she could have just given us more of the Sheyqa Nizzira, the truly chilling, scene-chewing villainess behind Azzad’s flight into the desert, maybe there would have been no need to dwell on Alessid. Unfortunately, once we get beyond the bloodbath that begins the novel, she ceases to be anything other than a name, a title, a character who exists off-the-page as a focal point for vengeance. She had such promise - I would have really loved to explore her more.
Characters and plotting aside, the Middle East flavouring is a nice change of pace from the typical European fantasy setting, and I loved exploring the origins of the magic that made The Golden Key so enthralling. There were some really nice stylistic touches here, and the quality of the writing itself is full of hints and promises of a return to form for Melanie. I’d like to think this was just a contractual obligation she forced herself through, to give her the freedom to do something new.
Time will tell, but here’s hoping her new trilogy follows through on that promise of a return to form, and once again demonstrates the love for her material that seemed lacking here.