At the beginning of this year I set a goal to read all of the Phoenix Fiction Writers’ books that I could get in paperback, by the end of the year. If I remember correctly that list was 25 books long, and so far I’ve read three off the list (as well as four PFW books that weren’t on my list, including a reread). I’m looking forward to significantly growing that number over the next few months, but for now I’m happy to focus on the lovely book that is The Traveler.
First off, I was immediately struck by how atmospheric and vivid the setting description is in this book. Throughout the book I was able to really enjoy the mood of the settings and feel (as much as I could) like I was in the book alongside the characters. The worlds themselves were very well-thought-out and intriguing, as well, and (being primarily a fantasy reader) I particularly enjoyed Angapo.
The characters are where I feel like this book fell a little bit flat. I liked all of the characters, but I didn’t feel like I really got to know them. I don’t think this is a fault in the development of the characters–I got the impression they were all fleshed out well–but in the writing. A lot of the emotions in this book were told rather than shown, including Anissa’s feelings toward the other characters, so I feel like I didn’t really get to connect with them like she did. Even with that said, I was able to particularly enjoy reading about Carson, Brett, and Rodge, and I’m looking forward to reading the short story companions/prequels to The Traveler and getting to know a few of the characters better.
The lack of emotional showing also impacted action scenes, which lost the tension they might have had if I’d been able to feel what Anissa was feeling. I think they were well-written otherwise, and they were still usually enjoyable to read, but I think they could have been even stronger with more sensory description.
My biggest problem with this book, however, was the moment my suspension of disbelief was most strongly tested. When Anissa drove for the first time, in a stick-shift, with minimal instruction, and didn’t pop the clutch on her first attempt. I’ve mostly driven an automatic, but I’ve also driven a stick-shift a couple of times, with leisurely, detailed instruction, and I pop the clutch almost. every. time. Yeah, I’m probably less coordinated with it than the average person, but the idea that Anissa didn’t pop the clutch until several minutes into her drive is pretty hard for me to believe. Am I being nit-picky? Maybe.
But overall, I really enjoyed this book. The writing was pretty good, most of the characters were interesting, I loved the worldbuilding and the atmosphere, so overall I’d give it 3.5 stars.