Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett

From the back cover:
It is the time of the annual Midsummer Fair in the royal city of Astreiant, and the time of the conjunction of the spheres approaches, heralding the death of the monarch. Each year a few youngsters run away from home to go on the road with traders, but this year a far larger number of children than usual have gone missing during the Fair. Someone is stealing them away without a trace, and the populace is angry.

Nicolas Rathe, a city guard, must find the children and stop whatever dark plan is being hatched before the city explodes into chaos.

It took me nearly three years to finish reading Point of Hopes, and two months to write this review after I finally completed it. Those facts should give you a good indication of just how riveting this mystery isn’t.

Nicolas Rathe is a “pointsman” (basically a policeman) in the city of Astreiant. When dozens of children suddenly go missing, Rathe is on the case. He enlists a few friends to help—Philip Eslingen, a foreign mercenary to whom Rathe seems to be attracted, and a necromancer buddy from the local university who was, for some reason, played in my head by Paul Bettany. Primarily, Rathe’s investigation consists of visiting various parts of the city and talking to people to no avail, until finally a bit of evidence turns up on page 279. The three guys collectively put the pieces together, and I really liked the bits where they were working in concert. Too bad they were only together in the final 70 pages!

Thankfully, the setting of Point of Hopes is more intriguing than its central mystery. For one, gender equality is absolutely the norm. Just as many women as men participate in professions seen as traditionally male in our society, and many women are in positions of power. In the fantasy setting of Astreiant, your occupation is determined by the alignment of the stars at your birth, which reads to me as a metaphor for objectively selecting people for a job based solely on their abilities. Equality of sexual preference is also a facet of life in Astreiant—it’s not that same-sex relationships are merely tolerated: they’re commonplace. No one would think of considering them invalid or sinful.

Aside from not being very exciting, the most irritating aspect of Point of Hopes for me was the dire need for better editing. There were many, many, many instances where a comma was used in a spot that needed a semicolon and many pages that suffered from wall o’ text syndrome. I can’t help but feel like it would’ve read faster if it weren’t so dense-looking. Lastly, I wonder at some of the names. I tend to think characters’ names “aloud” in my head, and while this is obviously not a problem for the lead characters, I was stymied by names like “Cijntien.” Plus, it’s weird to have fantasy names like that alongside such normal ones.

Anyway, there is a sequel to this entitled Point of Dreams. I own it, so will likely read it someday, but at the rate I’ve gone with this story thus far, I wouldn’t expect a review until at least 2015!


Point of Hopes (Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett)

The Plot
In the city of Astreiant, children have been disappearing — and not the sort of children that would be expected to run away to seek their fortune. Nico Rathe, adjunct pointsman at Point of Hopes, is determined that his investigation will see the children found before anything can happen to them. But with approximately zero leads, he’s mostly just poking around and hoping something pops out. Meanwhile, the city is growing more tense and hostilities are starting to break out.

My Thoughts
This wasn’t a book I’d picked out, and I again had a curious reluctance to pick it up and start it. But unlike the last book where that happened, once I got going with it I didn’t really have trouble continuing.

On its surface, this seems like a book I would like very much: I’m a fan of mysteries and I’m a fan of fantasy and this one has both. The surface impression is not entirely wrong, either.

The book’s main character, Nico Rathe, is the adjunct point in the area of Astreiant called Point of Hopes. It’s clear immediately that a ‘point’ is a sort of patrolman and detective rolled into one. But at that point (ha ha) the worldbuilding breaks down a little, and information is not provided as quickly as I desired it. First, I found that I was confused about the geography: I initially thought that Point of Hopes was a town and all these other places mentioned were also towns, all within the country of Astreiant. But that was a mistaken impression. Instead, Point of Hopes, Point of Dreams and so forth are actually neighborhoods within the city of Astreiant which is in the kingdom (queendom) of Chenedolle. I didn’t figure this out until about halfway through the book, at which point some things started making a good deal more sense.

There was also confusion with vocabulary. Now, it’s the prerogative of fantasy writers to make up new words for their new worlds, and I have nothing against that. The danger of made-up vocabulary, however, is a failure to adequately define a term in context. The authors mostly avoided this pitfall with one glaring exception. The world ‘point’ seemed to refer to the policemen, locations, the charges which were being filed and was just flung around far too freely for me to keep track of its meaning. The point at the point made a point on the point to pointy point point.

Setting these issues aside, the mystery gets underway quickly, with Rathe interviewing people to find out more information about what’s going on. As his investigation stalls, tensions begin to rise within the city, and the cityfolk let their fears dictate their actions — they become suspicious of outsiders and inclined to violence. It’s mostly due to this that Rathe encounters the unemployed soldier Eslingen and decides to use him as a mole within the household of someone his boss’s boss has decided to finger as a suspect in the disappearances.

The mystery continues at a very slow burn until the last quarter of the book when the pace picks up, some vital information is finally shaken loose, and things race to a conclusion. While I found the final confrontation anti-climactic, it didn’t seem inconsistent with anything that had been established earlier in the book and was all right.

My main lingering complaint after the end of the book was a definite lack of information that was conveyed about the world. It was clear from the details that did emerge the authors had done some thinking about the world and how its mechanics operated. But they were very stingy with their revelations! For instance, we are told throughout the course of the book that in this world, astrology is real, and the stars of your birth can have a significant impact on your odds of success or failure in certain professions. But though this was actually a major plot point, I still felt, by the end, I didn’t understand precisely how this worked.

There are also hints that homosexuality, particularly among the young, is accepted and even encouraged. There are indications that inheritance in this world is through the female line, with daughters being the first to inherit. The world is fairly equal, most likely as a direct result of the inheritance laws not requiring men to assure themselves of their sons being fathered by themselves. Ghosts are real. But none of this is detailed or explored — it’s all just an aside.

There is a sequel, which presumably would expand on the world and provide a deeper look at some of these issues, but I think this book could have been made better by the inclusion of just a little more time, a few more pages, put into explaining the setting.

In Short
As a mystery, it wasn’t bad. It worked a great deal like other mysteries set in the distant past (Death Comes as the End), in a distant location (Rowland’s Sano Ichiro series), or in an alternate Earth (Garrett’s Lord Darcy series). In other words, the mystery itself was not really ‘fair’ in that you couldn’t necessarily solve it before the investigator due to a lack of information about the setting — but on the other hand, the solution was not convoluted because of the lack of need to obscure the clues. As a fantasy, I felt like the worldbuilding had clearly been done, but that information wasn’t conveyed to the reader in as much depth as I wanted it. It was a slow read, but I did like it.


J’s Take on Point of Hopes by Melissa Scott and Lisa A. Barnett

Point of Hopes is one of those titles that you can never quite remember. This is a book, really two books (the other being Point of Dreams to add to the confusion), that I’ve seen in various locations and lists. With the impetus of Triple Take, I’ve now read this one. If I can manage to remember the title of it.

The cover intrigued me. It looked rather Puritan, but it also looked academic, and there were girls, or at least young women. But while I can now say the cover accurately represents an important scene in the book.. none of those first impressions were correct. No, those girls and even that guy in the robe.. none of them are main characters.

We start with an unpromising prologue. I had trouble following whose point of view it was, or in being very interested in it. Fortunately, I know that most prologues have little to do with the style and tone of the rest of the book. Unfortunately, that means you have to sit through them and get to the real first chapter before you can tell whether to give up on the book or not. Extra wasted time and effort.

This book does get better after the prologue. The point of view problems settle down… mostly. As we alternate sections and/or chapters with first one character, Rathe, a pointsman (this world’s version of a police detective), and a second, Eslingen, a militaryman between jobs acting as a hired guard. But I do say mostly, because there’s one section in particular where they’re in the same scene and the point of view gets all jumbled up again. It’s at this point that I wondered if the two authors were collaborating by each taking one character. And that they then had trouble reconciling it when the two had scenes together.

As for the plot, it’s mostly a mystery plot. Children are disappearing from the city and Rathe sees it as his job and calling and obligation to various people and whatnot to try to find out what’s going on. So a lot of the book is him running here, and running there, and talking to people, and collecting clues. And really, do people like reading mysteries and watching all this running around and talking to people? Because I don’t get a whole lot of pleasure out of it.

Things got hopeful when Rathe first lays eyes on Eslingen. He makes a point of noting he’s handsome and what he’s wearing. Which isn’t unusual, in itself, but my ears and eyes were perked for a budding romance. A love story? A romantic subplot at the very least? A friendship that slowly evolves into something more? Well, perhaps it’s a spoiler to say so, but I was denied, dear reader. DENIED!

And not in the usual way.. where all the slash is subtext that I’m probably reading into a normal manly friendship. No. Because the authors make a point of Rathe being surprised Eslingen was interested in women. And you just know, you just know, that Rathe is interested and that Eslingen probably wouldn’t be too against it either. Because there are hints throughout that this is a very bisexual sort of society. Not that everyone is, but that the society as a whole is. So that maybe, maybe, if the story of these two continues in the next book, Point of Dreams, they might move further along in this relationship. But by the end of this book, it’s not much of a relationship. It’s barely even a friendship.


One cute thing about this world is there are gargoyles. And they’re basically like rats. They hang around the garbage and are a nuisance, but a somewhat cute sort of nuisance. Maybe more like wild cats combined with pigeons? Anyway, that’s a cool little addition. And you can see them on the cover of the book. Even if you first take them for firelizards.

The end of the book seems rushed. I even started noticing more and more typos. And then the big bad bad guy is defeated waaaaay too easily. And quickly. Perhaps, in that way, it was again more like a mystery than a typical fantasy. In a mystery, it doesn’t matter if you shoot the guy at the end, as long as you’ve proved it’s him and done all your revelations. (Not that he gets shot. That’s just an analogy.)

One other thing I should definitely say is that this book read like a very long slog. Perhaps not a particularly hard slog, but a slog. It took a lot longer to read than it looked like from the size of the book. There were a lot of words crammed onto an individual page and the chapters were incredibly long. I think there were only about 9 or 10 chapters in the whole book. I read it diligently and plowed ahead with it, but it still took me over a week to finish it.

I’m mostly left feeling that I like this world. Women are more or less equal. The gargoyles are a bit of fun. They don’t mind a bit of same-sex fooling around — prevents the apprentices and journeymen from getting pregnant. There’s an interesting political setup with the way the local police are new and still feeling out their role.. which isn’t quite the same as we know police.

But while I do like the world, and the characters aren’t bad, I just can’t like the story. It wasn’t the story I wanted, I guess.

So I’m torn. Do I revisit the world because it’s cool and I want to learn more about it? Because the authors might explore things I was more interested in? Because the main characters might finally hook up? Or do I not subject myself to another long slog for a similar plot and unfulfilled expectations?

I’m going to have to give this one a 3.