Written for JoyfullyJay
Review of Sunset (Pact Arcanum #1) by Arshad Ahsanuddin
Rating: 4 stars
The year is 2040. A terrorist appears during an Oscar-like awards show and threatens to blow up the city with an atomic bomb unless her demands are met. Rising from the audience to deal with the threat is Nicholas Jameson, known rock star.
As the clock ticks down the minutes to detonation, it is not only millions of lives at stake. Nick is also hiding a secret of monumental importance. Nick is Daywalker and one of the most powerful members of a secret supernatural society made up of Nightwalkers (vampires) , Daywalkers (vampires with souls), and Sentinels (warriors of the Light, vampire killers). For tens of thousands of years, unbeknownst to Humans among them, enemies Nightwalkers and Sentinels have lived and warred. In secret, they created their own cultures and societies, even as they strove for each others total destruction. Then came the Redeemer and he offered the two sides a way to coexist without the constant warfare. Those Nightwalkers that accepted the Armistice became Daywalkers who worked with the Sentinels to keep the peace. Now all is threatened when circumstances demand that Nick reveal his true nature to the terrorist and the Human world watching the award telecast live.
Foes to the Armistice come from all sides as the Human governments react to the new reality of beings more powerful and advanced living among them and Nightwalkers seek to rule once more. The Society needs a leader and looks to Nick to help save the Armistice and their existence. But Nick is haunted by his past and his weakness is a threat to all near him. Can Nick surmount his traumatic past and become a hero the world needs?
Sunset (Pact Arcanum #1) is the first in a series of seven books (the seventh book is called Book #4) written by Arshad Ahsanuddin. The Pact Arcanum series is world building on an epic and labyrinthine scale. There are so many convoluted and confounding layers to this story that the maze of King Midos begins to look like a game of Chutes and Ladders next to it. For me it never bodes well that the Introduction is pages of the Hierarchies of the Nightwalker, Daywalker and Sentinel societies, complete with Titles you won’t remember (i.e, ” Imperator: Adjudicator between vampire Houses, called the Huntmaster Magister: Leader of a vampire House, called the Prince (gender neutral)” etc.), places and names of places too numerous to remember, and a cast roster you won’t need to remember as each character is well introduced within the confines of the novel. Whereas maps help place events, information lists of this nature impede the forward motion of the story and is unnecessary if the exposition is clear.
Sunset starts out with great promise. As Chapter one and the story opens, the award ceremony is underway and the terrorists are taking their places inside the auditorium. The tension increases as the terrorists make themselves known, the bomb is unveiled, and Nick is forced to reveal himself to the world. I love fantasy stories and when the author has created a universe within a series of books, I am filled with anticipation of days ahead of joyous reading.
At Chapter 5, I start to get that “duhoh” feeling as time starts to jump ahead. Chapter 6 is “five hours after public exposure”. Chapter 7? That is “four hours earlier, two hours after public exposure”. Chapter 10 and its now January 2040, one day after public exposure. Each chapter is a different time frame, most of the time. Sigh. Chapter 11 and its February 2040, two weeks after public exposure, Chapter 12 takes place three hours earlier than Chapter 11. And on it goes as straight forward storytelling is abandoned in place of a high wire trapeze act, as time swings back and forth between each chapter. Also most chapters describes where as well as when the chapter takes place, as in “Chapter 39, Armistice Embassy, Washington, D.C.; Five minutes earlier.” Then “Chapter 40 Armistice Security Headquarters, Anchorpoint City, Grand Mesa, Colorado; Thirty minutes later.” Chapter 41 has no such description. It is just a continuation of the previous chapter. For the sake of continuity, Chapter 41 should still be 40. But this happens throughout the book.
Flat characterization is also a problem here. Nicholas Jameson is a vampire that everyone is in love with to the point of aggression but I could never understand why the character instills such passion in others. I certainly didn’t feel it. In fact, none of the main characters here ever felt real. At the very end of the book, I was sniffling over the death of a minor character, a “satellite” person brought in to achieve a goal the author had in mind. This person was more fully actualized than any of the main characters introduced previously and the only one I actually cared about. That is a sad fact.
Jeffrey Hirschberg in his “11 Laws of Great Storytelling” states “attentiveness (or lack thereof) of the audience is directly related to its ability to make a successful emotional connection.” And he’s right. I can tell that Arshad Ahsanuddin not only loves the world he has created but is a scientist as well due to all the minutiae created and recorded here. In addition to the layers of Titles, titles given to powers, layers of titles within each court, there are also drawings of glyphs and symbols and drawings of weapons. While such minutiae can enrich the storytelling experience, it can also serve to weigh down the momentum of the story under too many details until that “emotional connection” is lost.
Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing*, Rule 10 is “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”
While this sounds humorous, it is also true. In sections of Sunset, the layers of details are so dense and numerous, the story grinds to a halt. Desperate to find the story’s energy again, heck desperate to find just the story, I started to flip through the paragraphs, pages even, until the novel reached out to me once more.
Elmore Leonard’s Rules 8 and 9 also apply here.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
But both are self explanatory and would make this review much too long.
As with Burn, another fantasy epic in the making, Sunset (Pact Arcanum#1) becomes powerful in the very last portion of the book, pulling the reader to the edge of the seat in suspense and anticipation of events unfolding. But Sunset takes that emotional punch it just achieved and throws it away at the contrived ending. I actually reread the last pages in disbelief, but this has to be where the author planned to take us all along. It just does not seem to match the rest of the book.
So I give Sunset 4 stars mostly because of the universe building and its details. That is all very well done. The story is a terrific one that gets lost in fragmented storytelling ,detail overload, and poor characterization. The rest of the books are already written (including Books #2.5 and #3.5, along with 2, 3, 4 and Interludes). But I think I will stop here. There are other universes and fantasies on the horizon calling to me. I think I will journey there instead.