Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mahalia by Moira Katson

Title: Mahalia
Series: The Yeshuhain Chronicles
Author: Moira Katsen
Rating: 2.5 stars

The Plot

Mahalia did not want to accept her fate as a noble lady. She couldn’t bear to marry the man her parents picked out and allow him to inherit her father’s title of ailahafeeza instead of her. She wanted to lead her people herself and take time to research the practice of magic. But when a tragedy strikes the city, she is forced to take control of the Yeshuhain clan in order to help them recover from the disaster. But even as she provides aid to her wounded family members, something even more sinister is befalling them. A sickness, unique to her clan and most strongly affecting those with magic, runs rampant through the city, and she must act quickly to discover the cause before she no longer has a clan to protect.
 The Good

The world of Mahalia was a very interesting place. The people had their cities around oases in the desert, and the major livelihood of the clans occurred via the trade caravans that traveled between the cities. The people were grouped into clans based on racial characteristics, and each clan had sub-clan families. There was some amount of clan mixing, both geographically and martially, but overall the clans preferred to remain separate. I’ll be honest, I usually find desert faux-Arabic fantasies irritating, and I think that’s largely because of the harems. But Mahalia featured a thriving desert people who managed to let women be scholars and warriors, though maybe not the leader. I wish that I had gotten a clearer picture of how everything worked, as it wasn’t until two-thirds of the way through the story that I got

The Bad

I work with epidemiologists in the field of public health, which means that I actually know a lot about measuring disease spread and evaluating causes and cures. And let me say that Mahalia’s process of determining the cause and treatment for the disease bears absolutely no resemblance to a practice that would actually be effective. For one thing, she does all her research from books that her cousin sneaks out of libraries for her, and she has never had any kind of formal magical schooling. Any experiments she performs have an n of 1, her cousin Faseira, yet she is allegedly one of the foremost scholars on magical theory in the clan/world. This makes zero sense, because some greater authority had to have written the books.  She uses similar processes when actually curing the disease, book research rather than obtaining any kind of empirical evidence from people who were actually sick. Yeah, that didn’t fly with me, and curing the disease was the whole plot of the book.

The Romance

This section contains half a spoiler. Consider yourself warned.

The book opens with Mahalia protesting her betrothal to Rafil, a man who she knows nothing about except than her parents think that he is a good choice to be the next ailahafeeza. (As the novel goes on, I start to wonder why this is the case, since Rafil is younger than 17-year-old Mahalia and doesn’t seem to have any self-confidence, but that is beside the point.) Both before and after her parents’ death, Mahalia wants to be ailahafeeza herself, which means putting off the marriage as much as possible. This turns out to be surprisingly easy since once Mahalia’s mother is dead, weddings aren’t high on anyone’s priority list.

Mahalia still has to work with Rafil, as his mother Isura is the one who has tasked Mahalia with curing the disease, and Isura is less than forthcoming with all the information that Mahalia needs. And if being extra familiar with her quasi-fiancĂ© helps with the cause, at least she can say it’s for the greater good. But will Mahalia find herself falling in love with the boy her parents wanted her to marry? Or will she decide four pages from the end that she’s in love with a totally different character in whom there has been no evidence that she was interested? I’ll give you a hint. I wouldn’t even have thought to ask the second question if it did not accurately reflect the state of affairs.

Will I read more?

I found the book frustrating over all, since the plot revolved around implausible epidemiology methodology. I would like to learn more about how Mahalia’s world works, but since I got very little explanation in the first book, I don’t know that I would expect anything clearer in a second. So, all in all, I will likely be skipping the rest of the books in the series.

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