MAIA by Richard Adams


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Epic tedium: a surprisingly bad, monstrously long pulp-fantasy-melodrama from the author of Watership Down and The Plague Dogs--without any of the mythic/ lyrical flights that helped to make Shardik (1975) at least intermittently intriguing. Like Shardik, this picaresque slog takes place in the fictional, vaguely medieval Beklan Empire, where everyone chats in a banal, irritating mixture of British dialects and modern slang, with a few made-up obscenities illogically tossed in. (E.g., ""You dirty, rotten, basting venda!"") And Adams' unengaging heroine is centerfold peasant-girl Maia--who, despite a few bursts of gutsiness, mostly simpers and whines her way through three years of humdrum sexual/political entanglements. After a bit of Tobacco Road lust with her stepfather, 15-year-old Maia is sold into white-slavery by her mother--soon arriving, along with savvy black courtesan Occula (who provides lesbian ""comfort""), in the capital city of Bekla, where the Leopard regime has taken power. Maia and Occula are sold to the household-harem of gross and kinky Sencho, the Leopard spy-chief; they cheerfully join in assorted orgies--though Maia declines to get heavily into S&M with cruel Fornis, the powerful Sacred Queen. Eventually, after about 400 pages of leering and yakking, there's a bit of action: while Occula conspires to kill Sencho, Maia is recruited as a Leopard agent--ordered to spy on baron Bayub-Ortal of the Suba province, who might be involved in anti-Leopard doings; so Maia follows B-O to rural Suba, where she falls in love with Zenka, an anti-Leopard soldier; nonetheless, she does bring crucial data on invasion plans to the Leopards (via an heroic swim), thus becoming a national heroine in Bekla. The novel's even talkier second half then follows Maia's rough times in the Bekla limelight: her attempts to save Occula and her stepfather (a political prisoner) from Fornis' tricky nastiness; her reluctant involvement in various anti-Leopard movements; her nonstop pining for Zenka (despite a night or two of nobly motivated high-price whoring). So finally, when Queen Fornis' troops begin a bloody coup in Bekla, Maia flees to Suba (a somewhat scenic river-trek) with Bayub-Ortal--revealing that she is really a Suban princess (B-O's cousin!), helping to unify the anti-Leopard forces, but settling down as happy-housewife to beloved Zenka (who eventually forgives Maia for her earlier pro-Leopard activities). Does all this sound basically familiar? It should--since it's the stuff of innumerable formula-pulps: part harem-girl porn, part mythical-kingdom revolution. And, without a furry animal in sight, any Adams fans who stray this way are likely to find 1062 pages of Maia a leaden surprise: humorless, lifeless, endless--with narration that's flat at best, all too often saccharine or smirky.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1984
Publisher: Knopf