The Crystal Desert (Julia Gray 2002)

The Crystal Desert

The Crystal Desert is the third instalment of Julia Gray’s Guardian Cycle, an epic fantasy series which has so far proven relatively mediocre. Despite this I am determined to keep going to the end, even though I have long since given up any hope of it turning into a masterpiece. Thus here I am, ready to review yet another instalment in the series. The Crystal Desert takes place, as the name implies, in a desert. The story follows the journey of the protagonist Terrel, an enchanter who is trying to figure out his role within the Tindaya Code, a prophecy which tells of a Guardian which will save the world. In connection to this prophecy are elementals, powerful beings which exist in the far corners of the world with great powers over nature. Terrel has tracked on such elemental to a mountain within the desert. Yet the tribal politics of the desert do not make this journey simple and Terrel finds his journey more perilous than ever before.

Like before the novel introduces a brand new land. I have to say I was quite fond the desert setting. The lifestyle of the people living in it was interesting to say the least and I always wanted to read a fantasy novel heavily featuring a desert setting. Granted I would have vastly preferred to see this setting in a novel with a decent plot but the setting itself did give the novel some brownie points. The main drawback really was the tribal politics. Since we’ve been introduced to so many one off characters doomed to disappear by the end of their respective novels I found it hard to care for the politics of the tribes introduced in this novel. The frequent shifts in setting in the series as a whole have made it hard for me to care about what happens in these places since all I care about as a reader is when the hell Terrel will get home and actually make some progress with the main plot.

While I found myself fond of certain characters, they disappeared for quite a long period somewhere around the halfway mark, which disappointed me somewhat. Jax, Terrel’s brother seems to come across as a bit petty in this book, doing things for seemingly arbitary reasons. I wonder if there was some element to his motives which I didn’t understand but at the moment he just seems a bit petty evil. There is also the matter that once again he is only seen when he talks to Terrel from a distance or possesses Terrel in a moment of weakness. One of my most frequent complaints of the series as that the major characters in the series as a whole never actually interact with Terrel in person, with his comatose girlfriend, Alyssa being the second chief offender here. How long will I have to wait to see any of these people in person again?

The main plot of this series is still confusing as hell. I’m still not sure what evil Terrel is supposed to be fighting against. As far as I’m aware the plot of the series so far has been him going around, freeing and negotiating with elementals which happen to be causing random natural disasters in whatever location they happen to be in. This book seemed to do something different by having one of the problems faced in this book, a plague, spread to other countries, including Terrel’s home country. This created a subplot where characters feared what would happen if Jax’s parents died, allowing him to take control of the country, thus giving Terrel additonal motivation to find the elemental and stop the plague. Yet, I have to criticise this too since Terrel has to deal with this problem despite being on the other side of the world and no point of view segments ever show how the plague is affecting life on the other side of the world. Instead Terrel hears of this through other characters such as Alyssa. This disappointed me, as I felt like the story had missed an opportunity to physically reunite the audience with some of the characters back in Terrel’s homeland.

It annoyed me that the main plot of the book was still unclear despite the fact that we are now over halfway through the five book series. The series as a whole doesn’t seem to have a clear antagonist yet, aside from Jax’s morally ambiguous actions which may or may not have Terrel’s best interests at heart. As a whole the book seemed to have a few intriguing moments but I still felt like everything was a bit confusing. To be honest, the entire book mostly felt like padding, at least in terms of the main plot and I am starting to wonder if it was necessary for the Guardian Cycle as a whole to be five books long. Maybe I’m just overthinking things but one thing for certain is that the plot is still quite dragged out and boring.

SCORE: 3/5

IN A WORD: CONFUSING

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