And now, nearly two years later, Order of Tales has ended.
And after two years of carefully receiving and ignoring updates, I was finally able to read the entire thing from start to finish. (I was reading it a piece at a time, but I realized I was losing track of the story, which is carefully woven, often silent, and doesn't really work without your full attention.)
My reaction? Awesome, if flawed. The art is brilliant, the story beautiful, and the characters well-drawn. The action is exciting and the pace is wonderfully pressing, with tension and wonders piling on in equal measure at every turn of the tale.
I have a few nit-picky issues with it:
I thought the love story was underdeveloped; there were plenty of moments when the two characters were in situations which lent themselves to conversation, which could have built a more believable romance, but these were largely ignored.
I also felt Koark's character could have used more clarity, or maybe just more likability. He was kind of a jerk the whole way through, often doing the right thing mostly out of obduracy, or selfishness. When T-O-E talks about Koark having too limited a viewpoint, I believe him, and in actuality, he does nothing of value in the climax. This isn't actually a problem, except that his crisis at the end--the realization that his story has killed his lover, and that therefore he was wrong to try and fulfill his role--feels petulant and impulsive, and the same goes for his immediate turn-around. It was overall a problem for me that the only real character development, the only real test or change, seemed to come at the end, which is a long time to go when the story is 750 pages long. There were definitely points at which the single-minded fixation on plot became frustrating.
Finally, I was annoyed that the three immortals from Rice Boy all showed up, and we were expected to recognize them and understand who they were, including one crucial moment when one of them saves Koark's life for motivations that may have been spelled out in Rice Boy, but were totally opaque in Order of Tales, amounting to a deus ex machina. I've read Rice Boy before, but not recently, and besides T-O-E I was a bit lost with the other characters that carried over. I have no quibble with keeping characters between fantasy stories set in the same world, hundreds or thousands of years apart; I think that's awesome and brilliant. But I think Dahm should have written them in with more clarity, so that Order of Tales could truly stand on its own.
That said, I really really enjoyed it, especially the themes, which I think were particularly well-done:
To me, Order of Tales is about the power of stories to preserve the past and inspire the present (from the Horneds who use stories to remind themselves what they fight for, to the Machine Men, who remember their sins so as to not repeat them), and their awesome and terrible power to create the world around us (the artist-like "giants" who made the world, the tale which drives one man to betray his order and seize power and the bottle woman to self-sacrifice). I like how Koark spends the story never really realizing the power of his book, at one point unwisely letting slip his identity as a Teller, until his loss makes him understand how stories guide us, aid us, and sometimes destroy us. It's an especially wonderful message coming from a master storyteller such as this one.
I also loved the inversions that this story performs on various fantasy tropes, from the distrusting counselor (the Horned prince, here, not actually a bad guy) to the maimed, ugly villain (who also turns out to be good, despite his appearance) to the prophecy which turns out to be merely history ironically repeating (this bottle woman was not actually "born to love, made to die", but it ends up being true about her). It shows that Dahm's unique vision doesn't simply come naturally to him, but is also the result of deep thought on what the genre has done before and how one may separate from it while still tapping into the deep well-spring of archetype that gives it its power.
Anyway, if you haven't yet, go read it. I recommend a single sitting, it'll only take a couple of hours.
Malice, I think I'm going to take Vattu off my RSS feed and just read it in one go. It's what I did with Rice Boy, and it worked well, and I agree that reading it or Order of Tales page by page just doesn't work as well.