Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Scorpion Mountain Scorpion Mountain:
Brotherband 5
by John Flanagan
Random House

Supplied for review by Random HouseNew Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

Here we go again… Flanagan has found a formula for young adult fantasy that clearly sells, but is seriously flawed by lazy world-building and in this case, dubious plotting. He splits the party and sends a group of just three individuals into the evil lair… If I was the game master they’d suffer for that, and the players would have trouble convincing me that those characters should survive. But this isn’t my game, it’s Flanagan’s and he’s way too nice to his characters. He even gives them water closets – which takes some justification in a pseudo-medieval setting. As does the architecture. Castle Araluen is described as a "mass of graceful spires, soaring turrets, flying buttresses and fluttering pennants". Sounds more like Disneyland than anything reasonable in a low magic medieval fantasy world. Then there’s the decidedly modern Arabic menu including tomatoes in the tabbouleh (they’re from the Americas), and the gaudy clothes of the Hellenic corsairs – tricky with natural dyes. Most curious of all is the land yacht that Hal constructs from old chariot wheels and bamboo (not sure about finding that in pseudo-Arabia). I’d really like to see the Mythbusters investigate the feasibility of building such a thing.

All of this made it really difficult for me to suspend disbelief and actually enjoy the story. Which felt contrived and formulaic, especially the whole scorpion cult business in a world that seems otherwise quite lacking in religious beliefs. For what it’s worth, the scorpion goddess of ancient Egypt, Serket, was not at all evil, more a protector against venoms and poisons. And you have to wonder at Flanagan’s use of pseudo-Islamic terminology… the invented word tolfah for fatwa for example. I would have thought it safer to avoid anything remotely resembling the modern Middle East. And there’s so many other less well-known cultures to steal ideas from. It’s evident that his many fans continue to enjoy Flanagan’s work, but I’m afraid it’s just not good enough.

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