Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Landscapes: A Review of Sebastian by Anne Bishop

Err, no, not that Sebastian
That's better!

As promised, a brief story about my relationship with this book (feel free to skip):

Sebastian was given to me by a friend who was cleaning out her room. When you happen to be the only bibliophile in your group of friends, a lot of them assume that you're dieing for their unwanted books. I've had people give me outdated encyclopedias. In any case, based on the cover and the description and some of the reviews I read online, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't all that interested in this one. My TBR pile is a mile deep, and I can't waste time on "meh" books. So, I put it in the "donate" pile and forgot about it. Then, over Thanksgiving break I was at my mom's and I ran out of things to read. This one looked like the most promising of a very unpromising group, so I picked it up.

And I was, initially, pleasantly surprised. The language was pretty, the concepts were intellectually stimulating. Oh my, I thought, I might actually like this book! I started telling people about it. I took it back to my apartment with me and ignored my other books in it's favor.

Time went by, pages went by, and nothing happened. I started to get bored. When Josh would ask me how my book was and what was happening in it, my response was invariably  "Oh, they're eating penis shaped bread and talking about things." I'll get to that later. The point is, I went from hesitant to interested to "Oh my God I'm so bored" in the space of 4 days and 300 pages, and that is BAD. So if the following review seems indecisive, this is why.

On to the review!

Sebastian is set in the world of Ephemera, which is really a bunch of little self contained worlds that are connected by (for lack of a better term) magical bridges. The worlds are called landscapes, and they are subject to alteration based on the emotions of their residents. Landscapers (as I understand them) are women who can channel the power of human hearts to help shape landscapes. Sebastian is an incubus who lives in a landscape called the Den of Iniquity. The Den was made by a rogue landscaper named Glorianna Belladonna (some people shouldn't be allowed to name characters), who created it as a home for demons. Sebastian has a unique heritage that gives him a unique influence over the Den. This becomes important when an ancient evil known as the Eater of Worlds is released from captivity and threatens all of the landscapes.

Positive Comments:

The ideas are really interesting. The multi-world concept is well thought out. The underlying message of the power of the human heart really resonated me, and it felt like their was so much potential in that idea. I was reminded of the Kingdom Hearts games. Laugh at this comparison if you must, but the idea of multiple worlds in a universe where hearts have magic is well paralleled between the two. So it's not a new concept, but it is an interesting one that I will always be pleased to explore.

The language is pretty. The names and descriptions are incredibly vivid, and they really bring the story to life--even the boring parts. Yes, at times it strayed toward flowery. But overall, I could see that some genuine effort was put into this novel.

Sebastian and the other characters had so much potential. I hate using that word, because it implies that they didn't actually live up to some standard. Truth be told, the characters were perfectly believable and entertaining, for the most part. It's the story they exist in that falls short. Sebastian is demon with a really strong human side, struggling to reconcile himself to exactly who and what he is. His journey is believable and, to the right reader, emotionally touching.

Critical Comments:

It's sloooow. For a book with a world eating monster, it gets pretty boring. It takes a long time for things to happen. A great deal of time is spent in talking, explaining, deciding, dreaming, thinking....It's not an action filled book by any means. If slower is to your taste, you will not have a problem.

It's repetitive. The same objects and people are described multiple times, the same concepts are repeated, and worst of all the same problems are outlined over an over. It felt like the author was writing to people with memory loss.

It's sexless. Yes, this is a fantasy novel and not a romance or erotica. And even if it were a romance, you can have a good romance novel without sex. However, the book is set up as though it's going to be filled with (or at least sprinkled with) sensual scenes. The main character is an incubus! He lives in a world full of other sex demons! They serve penis shaped bread! And, most importantly, there is a love interest, Lynnea, who really wants to get horizontal with him. But, when it comes down to that moment, we fade to black and cut to the next morning. I'm not asking for something graphic here. But, in my opinion, if you can't or don't want to write a sexy book, you shouldn't set up all these sexual themes. It builds expectations that it never delivers on.

Overall, this is a nicely written collection of lots of pretty words that add up to very little. If you like your fantasy slow and brainy, you may like this one. I ran the gambit of feelings toward it, and they all add up to neutral. 2.5 stars.


  1. This does sound like an interesting concept but I like a lot of action in my books. I'm not a fan of too much description or explaining when I'm reading.

    Great review :)

  2. Yes, and when you work in a library it's even worse. Since budgets have been cut they think you will want anything. We still only want books that someone wants to read, and many times if you don't want to read it, no one else does either. Not to say I haven't got some very welcome donations, but many times this is not the case.

  3. Chrissie--my recommendation to you is avoid this one! There are so many fantasy books out there that are full of action, and this one would just bore you to tears.

    Annette--I actually work in a college library and have experienced first hand that a surplus of books is not a good thing if they are not useful. We regularly have alumni or well-meaning community members drop of outdated text books and the like, and they aren't even worth processing to put on the shelves. Not to mention some of the books we did have got so out of date that they had to be purged, which was a massive process that still haunts my nightmares.

  4. Mwahaha! I can't stop giggling about Sebastian the crab!

    Oooh... this book sounds... confusing? Interesting ideas, but kind of too abstract? I'm so sick of books where you read 300 pages and nothing happens. It's so easy to get sucked in and mesmerised by pretty writing and overlook it, huh?

  5. Sarah--Yes, it is incredibly abstract. A lot of the time you think the author is explaining a metaphorical or religious concept, and then it turns out to be real in Ephemera. I didn't mind that, or at least I could live with it. The slowness, however, made me batshit crazy.


Thoughtful comments are appreciated! I always respond to them, and I usually return the favor! Happy reading!

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