Continuing to read fun and adventurous novels, I read The Written by Ben Galley. It was first published in 2010 and is the author’s debut novel. I think he revised it in 2017, but I do not know how I came upon this idea. Anyway, the thing to note is that I suspect Galley was rather young in 2010. I know, I know it sounds like am disparaging toward youth, generally, but my point is only that I am impressed. The novel (and indeed the series, which is called the Emaneska series) is self-published/independently published so this book does not come from the titans of the book publishing world. Many readers and reviewers have all kinds of opinions and feelings on self-published works, so I just wanted to be upfront about that fact.
The first few sections/chapters have a few bobbles. They are a bit weaker in writing skill than the rest of the book. I am saying this in this fashion because readers who “dnf” or quit the novel too soon may feel they have had enough of a taste to warrant that decision However, the novel does even out and really start to pound out a nice pacing and storyline. Now, one of the bobbles that I mentioned is one of those things that readers who love mysteries will pick up on first. I predicted it, which makes it worse, because I rarely predict anything in a novel.
The main character, Farden, is in his rooms in the tower/castle building. He gets up and locks the door because he does not want any intrusions. Then Farden is inebriated and he falls into a deep stupor/sleep. Right then, right there I said to myself: just watch someone will still come in the room. So it happens. The maid comes in the room in the morning. No, it does not make any sense to say that she has keys, because she is a nosy maid and would definitely have commented if she had found the door locked. Just a mistake that I think an author does not mean to make, but just happens. Does it affect the story? Absolutely not, because we are not reading about Poirot here.
I really enjoyed the way the book begins. The first several pages do a really good job of setting up a story – the reader will have questions after a wild and shocking opening. The reader is just thrown into a scene in the world and its snowy and bloody and THERE ARE BOOKS.
The story continues for awhile, we meet characters, we go a few places with our main character. I think these pages are the ones wherein we are supposed to “get the lay of the land” so to speak. We should be developing our interest in the main character, learning how things operate in the world, and enjoying a few action scenes – that sort of give us a little background, but it is not obvious if this background information is really all that relevant. Nothing here is poorly written, but to the expert readers of fantasy novels, I suspect it seems a little meandering, as if the story has not really gotten its footing.
By halfway, though, I think the novel is nicely developed and a lot of fun. On the Great Internet, I read that this series is “Norse inspired” and also that the main character has an addiction. Well, I think if readers come to this book expecting those themes to really take the forefront and standout, they will be disappointed. I am actually really happy that the novel did not bludgeon away at these alleged themes. I was concerned that the addiction subplot would be awful and annoying and I was afraid of the “Norse inspiration” to be stereotypically pasted-on rubbish. Truthfully, the “addiction” is not as expected and it is handled perfectly and is not sledgehammered. As far as inspiration – this novel seemed no more or less Norse than any other novel I have read recently.
So for a young author’s debut, Galley showed a lot of skill in keeping elements of his story corrected weighted. I have read plenty of veteran authors who seem to struggle with this ability and end up presenting readers with lopsided and annoying novels.
Even if I was not entirely sure where the storyline was going, I had a lot of fun. Some readers complained that the main character is overpowered and/or he has anger issues. I really did not see these same things and while I am not joining some Farden fan club, I think he was a solid character who did not annoy me at all. Usually, characters get on my nerves. One of the complaints that one could put forward is how the author uses Farden to tell the reader about the landscape. I mean, there are several paragraphs wherein the story seems to pause just so Farden can “enjoy the view” and tell the reader what he sees. This works once or twice, but it sort of began to feel like he was sightseeing and it was a bit contrived. There is nothing wrong, per se, with these parts, and they do serve the purpose sufficiently. It just sometimes feels like Farden should go be a landscape painter. This is subtle and I am being nitpicky. I could easily assume that this sort of viewpoint sharing is developed and outgrown in the author’s other works.
Chapter fourteen came out of nowhere and gave me the “oh nos!” I am such a sucker. Any author can get me, I swear. Anyway, chapter fourteen is when it all turns upside down and inside out and I feel bad for those readers who quit too soon because they missed out on some great stuff. Chapter fourteen is when all the build up and meandering gets focused and for the rest of the novel, the pacing and intensity is upgraded. I will tell you, the sly and subtle way in which the author breaks the reveal to the reader is so very well done – I had to read those paragraphs twice just to enjoy it again. Smooth, Galley, smooth….
The last half of the book is a rip-roaring adventure with magic and dragons and soldiers and fire and I do not want to give anything away. Suffice to say, its everything the best fantasy novels must have and even the enemies are interesting and wild. Its fun and exciting, which is why most of us readers read fiction, I think. I enjoyed my time with the main character, in this setting, and on these adventures. No, I do not have all the background (shoe size, favorite color, eyebrow length) of every character. I do not really know the ins and outs of the magic system or the details of all the training of all the soldiers, mages, and monsters in the world. I am quite all right with not knowing. The characters live there, I do not. The characters go through the training – I do not have to, thankfully. So, I can happily accept prima facie all the sorts of things mentioned or alluded to without having to feel grumpy at the author for leaving me out of some secret, and boring, background.
All of that being said, there was one aspect that really bugged me several times in the story. Farden is a Written (special mage type). He also has obvious weapon mastery and hand-to-hand combat skills. Due to the fact that he may be a wee bit overpowered and he seems to love to be at center-stage, his gear and weapons are often in bad shape. He sometimes has to repair and replace them. The thing that did not sit right with me is that he just wanders the markets and stalls in the trading districts of cities and finds a blacksmith and just selects a weapon from what is available.
Well, a couple of things, I find it illogical that a special mage under the command of the city/government/higher mages is given all kinds of amazing training and knowledge and yet is not provisioned by these same people? He has to rummage in the city like any other soldier, citizen, farmer for a good weapon? Secondly, well, Farden, if you insist on going to these stalls in the back alleys to buy your weapons on the cheap, this could be why your weapons are always broken, dull, and/or rusting. This is unacceptable. There has to be a better way to find quality gear in this land.
I really enjoyed this novel and am glad that I read it. I do intend to read the next in the series and also the other novels by the author. While there is not a whole lot of super original to this story, mostly everything in the story is done well and with skill. Therefore even if it is, technically, another story about mages with swords and dragons flying, so what? The pacing is nearly perfect, the characterization is solid. There are some items I wish the reader could have learned more about, but then, there are several other books in the series for such opportunity. Had a great time with Farden and friends.
I see Galley’s books all over the place so I know he’s pretty popular, although I’ve never tried him myself. It seems like he’s worth taking a chance on😁