My Latest MLP/Journey to the West Crossover Fic

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  1. The Horror!
  3. Branimir Čakić: VANIAN; Mozaik knjiga, 2002
  6. Branimir Čakić draws better than he writes. And he doesn't draw well. His models are stiffly copied from the
  7. templates offered by AD&D manuals and Marvel's superhero comics, and what little talent he has he show only
  8. while designing clothing or composing monumental landscapes. When he writes, though, he does it horribly:
  9. narcissistic and incredibly boring.
  11. From the moment we pick it up, Vanian screams with warnings. The fact that the author insisted on his own, bad
  12. illustrations alone tell us of the exaggerated admiration for everything he produces. The map on the inner side
  13. of the covers is quasi-tolkienish and strengthens our impression of doom: a bad font and arbitrary geography
  14. (I'm just fascinated by those rivers that start flowing from the plains just like that, and mountain chains
  15. that stop as if they were cut when they reach the coast). If this doesn't stop us, next up is the index from
  16. which we see the author made the world strange for strangeness sake, and not because of any real need (the
  17. writing is impractical, and the alphabet goes, hold on to your seats: atis, betis, citis, ditis, etis, fatis...).
  18. The last warning is a page and a half of thanks which opens the book, and where the author judges
  19. equally over all the living and the dead, from God and his neighbors, to HVIDRA and the local video store,
  20. which presumably didn't charge him the fee for keeping the tape too long once.One warning after another. And
  21. it's nobody else's fault that I kept reading on after all of that, right?
  23. It isn't, but I still live with the delusion that novels are written by people who have some experience or
  24. thought to share with us, who want to tell a story (and that the publishers keep putting them out with a better
  25. reason than the wish to be mentioned in a slew of thanks somewhere between the author's  extended family and
  26. parish office). I'm wrong, obviously, because Branimir Čakić has nothing to convey to us except the thrill over
  27. his own versatile talent, and guess what, Vanian doesn't have a story either. In theory, Vanian is the story of
  28. a foretold hero and some undefined evil that comes from dark Dravardia (in fantasy, evil is always coming, god
  29. forbid we handle an evil that is already here), and with which the hero  will probably clash in one of the six (!)
  30. planned sequels, 'cos in this one he mostly stood around letting the wind blow through his long fair hair.
  31. Foul, but OK, entertaining books were made based on worse premises. Bu tthere is no entertainment in Vanian.
  32. Only torture.
  34. For instance, the style with which the book is written is torturous: "Buttressed with bare stone slopes, with
  35. strong bulwarks he hugs his treasure: fields of domed temples and rotund towers wreathed with the harmony of
  36. nature worthy of the greatest admiration and the works of human hands - a grandiose Grey rock which coalesced
  37. into grandiose royal palaces dotted with a whole gallery of statues of vanians which bow to the sky and perky
  38. fountains which bounce in their shadows" (p. 13). I have seen this horrible mixture of naive poetry, unoriginal
  39. comparisons and pretentious exaltation mostly in the writings of of various teachers who prepared
  40. themselves for writing children's books and instantly started teaching them by force what they should admire,
  41. persuade them as to what they are to think about. Literature is after all "show, don't tell", so we have
  42. nothing to thank Čakić for, for bringing this teacherish variety of writing over into fantasy.
  44. The dialogues are just as archaically tortured as the descriptions - "I feared I might burn up. For my chest is
  45. more than too fragile for the fire that rumbles within it, just as it is too narrow for the heart it bears".
  46. (p. 52) - and the text is full of phrases ("no words could express the feelings they shared") and clumsy
  47. constructions ("started to rouse"). Even when he has a clear picture in his mind, Čakić doesn't have the
  48. vocabulary with which to express it: in a sentence like "Arx grinned oddly, then he became stiff, and then he
  49. spoke at last" (p. 153) there could have been better words. This way we're just left with the image of an
  50. harlequin suddenly immersed in carbonite.
  52. And even if Čakić could have found better words, he still wouldn't be able to hide the fact that his main
  53. source of information on human behavior are Mexican soap operas. Let's take a look at him directing a so called
  54. emotional scene on page 69: "Niana choked a little and shuddered with her eyelashes before she nodded her head
  55. affirmatively" - can't you see the the same scene repeated for the seven hundredth time, which explains to even
  56. the last housewife that the heroine is suffering? That same heroine's own look and act - in description and
  57. drawing - is borrowed from the vain fashion models of our native music videos:"Lush and gleaming blond hair
  58. which freely flows down her back", "The nose (...) small, straight, the lips set apart a little, full and rosy,
  59. eyes, big, gray, shadowed by the lowered eyelids and long eyelashes", "beautiful lithe physique", "sweet scents
  60. borrowed from flowers which do not wilt, a breath of purity which emerges from a pure soul just as an ember of
  61. warmth from a great heart", "watches the treetop with a appealing look", "her lips move silently, as if they
  62. are addressing someone above", she looks at the hero with "innocent pious eyes which look as if they were never
  63. touched by human emotion", and all this time, a harp is playing so the scene would be, i guess, lyrical (p. 65
  64. -68). Branimir, get away from the TV! Or don't, if that'll prevent you from ever taking up writing again.
  66. And while the listed parts are at least fascinating in their terribleness, the rest of the book plods
  67. mercilessly. The book starts several times over, and doesn't go anywhere, and when the main character, Sor (the
  68. names are, by the way, uninteresting and unremarkable in their sameness) is denied the vanian honor and we
  69. start hoping that something will start to happen, he learns that he's predestined for bigger things two pages
  70. later and -poof- any kind of tension is thrown out of the window. in terms of dramaturgy, a lot of things are
  71. shaky here: why was Sor separated from his twin, and where is the drama in their meeting if he doesn't know
  72. that and hasn't suffered because of the separation? Why is so much time spent on Brom, who dies while we are
  73. yawning? why is there a detailed description of the death of some character whose name or purpose we didn't
  74. remember by that point? One the 240 overlong pages of this novel, there are two or three ideas that shake
  75. us from the lethargy - the  allied wind sounds good, but it isn't used; the little book of shame is full of unused
  76. potential, the demon  with the flute is a nice image - but all of that doesn't save Vanian from being the worst book
  77. I have ever read for this column, a book that would quote higher even on a ladder of horror that was set wider.
  79. (mcn)
  80. PS (2006): The above review was written a few years ago.  Čakić has, in the meantime, expanded "Vanian" and
  81. published it as "Arb's Passage". I haven't read the expansion so i don't know if there were any core changes.
  82. The only thing I do know is that the cover by Mirko Ilić (boom-tshh!) was even worse than the one by Čakić from
  83. the first edition. Which, i guess, goes to show that the barrel has no bottom, although I'm not so sure as to
  84. why that should comfort us.

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