Tersias the Oracle

Tersias the Oracle By G. P. Taylor [LibrarythingAmazon]

Blind 12-year-old Tersias can see the future, thanks to the possession of the demonic Wretchkin, making him a useful tool for the various powers in London, particularly the potentially regicidal Lord Malpas and the cult leader/religious charlatan Solomon. Along with a young thief named Jonas Ketch and the bumbling street magician Magnus Malachi, Malpas and Solomon fight for the possession of Tersias, the beautiful Tara, a very deadly knife, and a box that just may be a portal to another world.

Was that synopsis confusing enough for you? No? Then I didn’t do Tersias justice. The book is crammed with characters, randomly switching both moral and political alliances, as well as a dozen magical artifacts or creatures or spirits everyone is trying to either use or destroy or hide from or steal, except when they’re not, or maybe they are, or something. Magnus Malachi goes abruptly from keeping Tersias locked in a cage and threatening him with a red-hot poker to thinking of him as the son he never had. Jonas despises Malachi, wants to steal and use Tersias, then is randomly loyal to Malachi (although that doesn’t stop him from stealing from Malachi, not that that ever winds up having any bearing on the plot) and determined to rescue Tersias, then abandons Malachi, then comes back. Solomon is working with Malpas is working with Malachi is working with Solomon, except they all plan to double-cross each other, unless maybe they don’t. Also, there’s an elephant ex machina. Huh?

Confusing matters further is the fact that the prose is utterly dreadful. Every sentence is long and rambling, in the passive voice, and containing at least one bizarre metaphor and misapplied pronoun. Many of them are also run-ons. It’s so extreme that I often had trouble telling what was going on (and the convoluted plot and lack of motivation for the characters didn’t help). The awkward “olde tyme-y” dialogue the characters spout is peppered with anachronistically colloquial contractions, and none of the characters ever say anything remotely believable. Here’s a sample, from when Jonah and Malachi escape from jail through the chimney:

“Run, Jonah, make good your escape,” [Malachi] said, wheezing breathlessly as smoke billowed from his beard as if he were a tired old dragon. “I cannot go on…no further…it is finished.”

“You must!” Jonah shouted back above the clanging of the prison bell and the shouts of the militia mounting the ladder. “I will not leave you behind.”

“In this you will have to. I am stuck like a rat in the trap. Wedged by my indulgences to the iron-bracing strap that encircles every pot, and I cannot be free of it,” the magician said, resigned to his fate…

Who says that? Even in a semi-magical Dickensian London?

(Speaking of Dickens, if Malachi and Jonah seem familiar to you, that may be because the central cast of Tersias is remarkably similar to that of Oliver Twist. Malachi is the dirty and morally-questionable Fagin, Jonah is the petty thief the Artful Dodger, Tersias is the poor, pathetic Oliver himself, and Tara, Jonah’s companion in crime, is the poor doomed Nancy. And as far as resemblances go, Tersias’s name drives me crazy. If you’re going to name your blind prophet something resembling Teiresias, just go the whole hog and leave in all the vowels.)

Finally, the treatment of women in Tersias was pretty dreadful. Tara is the only major female character, and she spends most of the book a prisoner of Solomon, who zonks her out on opium and makes her his cult bride. She’s basically a target for rape and/or forced marriage and a placeholder for some of Jonah’s angst, and that’s about it. The other two women in the book fill the Virgin Mary and evil stepmother roles respectively, covering the moral spectrum of thoughtless, vaguely misogynistic stereotyping. I’d be more up in arms about it if the male characters of the book showed depth or thought, but as they don’t the only thing they have over the female characters is sheer weight of numbers.

Tersias the Oracle gets one cupcake. It was more boring than irritating, which was why I was able to get through it, but I honestly can’t think of anything more positive to say than “it didn’t actively make me want to hurl it across the room,” which, let’s face it, is not much of a compliment.


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