There was a confluence of factors. In isolation, I probably would’ve kept going, but in aggregate they…didn’t exactly annoy me, just afflicted me with meh. I felt like I’d read the book before. (Even the unconventional bits–I did skim ahead, which I often do regardless of whether or not I’m enjoying a book–are at this point pretty conventional.) The prose wasn’t doing it for me. I didn’t like the tactic of switching out of dialogue and into summaries. And I felt like there was too much info-dumping, so there was no tension when Dirty Sekrits were revealed.
But the other day I finally put my finger on the problem. Not a reason I did not, personally, enjoy the book, but the problem I had with it. The Dirty Sekrit of the Acacian empire is slavery: children shipped out, drugs shipped in. The slave trade has been going on for five, six hundred years. It’s a well-known fact of life (except among the children of the elite). Children are shipped out to meet the Quota, set by treaty, and children also make up some of the domestic workforce.
So far, so evil; perfectly good starting place for an epic fantasy. Except…everybody agrees it’s evil. The drugs dull the pain of lost children (among families that help fulfill the Quota) or guilt (among the elites who carry on the trade). The Quota is a shameful secret the elites shield their children from for as long as possible, so they can remain innocent and carefree until they have to grow up and rule the world.
And that’s where the scenario collapses for me. People have a talent for perpetrating despicable acts. They’re also really good at coming up with rationalizations. I have an easy time buying a society that’s been shipping off children as slaves for a few hundred years. I have a really hard time believing they haven’t come up with some way to feel better about it. I also have a hard time believing that the culture has, apparently, remained pretty static all that time (that’s one of those fantasy conventions that bugs me).
Things may pull together in a more satisfying way, later in the series or even later in the book (skimming != reading). But the reaction of Acacians (and outsiders) to the Dirty Sekrit is so pivotal to…well, everything…that there doesn’t seem to be much point to continuing if I can’t swallow that porcupine.