Fantasy

Renegade

Renegade - J. A. Souders; TOR

Renegade – J. A. Souders; TOR

I was sent an uncorrected advance reading copy by TOR of Renegade by J. (Jessica) A. Souders.  It’s to be published November/December 2012 in the USA.  It is a young adult science fiction/fantasy novel that is the debut of the author.

I do not know who the cover artist is.  The cover is not something that normally would have me pick up the book. Nevertheless, the back of the book blurb was interesting enough.  I do not read a whole lot of young adult fiction.  I don’t ever know how to rate young adult fiction. I suspect this one is pretty good. I do think there was a bit too much romance/sex. It’s kind of icky to read about teenagers and their hots for one another…. Overall, though, I think while not a completely original scenario, it’s solid and interesting for a young adult novel.  It was a one-night read that didn’t require too much effort from me.  Also, I believe this may be something of a series.  Ultimately, one is not overly compelled to read the next in the series.  Not because this novel was ungood (yeah, I went Orwell on you there), but because the story does not end on a cliffhanger. There are some relatively vague questions about the world, but I am fine with this as a standalone – or as expanded into a series.

The dystopia is a fairly standard theme here, nevertheless it is still interesting. It reminded me, in some of the setting, of Atlantis and Namor and Imperius Rex. Anything that does that is a good thing. I also thought the mind-conditioning, amnesia, and brainwashing were written really well. So, good setting and good plot device.

The bad:  there were some chapters toward the end of the novel that seemed a little circular. The characters are being hunted, they are lost, etc. I feel like they were really going in circles. Not terrible, but something else needed to happen there.

The villain, Mother, was sufficiently creepy and deranged. “My life is just about perfect.”  Again, while somewhat predictable, she was unrelenting throughout and was not wishy-washy. I really do not like villains who vacillate or who are weak.  If you’re gonna be a baddie, be bad to the bone!  Of course, though the villain was obvious, the reader understands the loyalty the main character, Evelyn Winters, still has toward her.  In fact, one can almost sympathize with the reasons, if not the method, for the pseudo-utopia underwater that Mother controls.

I appreciate the mix of tech and non-tech in this one. There is a really subtle balance between science and simplicity that I was surprised to find in a young adult novel.  I do not know how many young adults will actually pick up on this, but I found it to be a good thing. Overall, there was nothing surprising to the plot.  I think the author has some good ideas and is a decent writer.  I don’t think she’s ever shot a handgun or done any hand-to-hand combat, but I do not think this lack of realism in the novel damaged it in any way.  I admit that I am not a big young adult fiction reader so my rating is not expert-level, but I am giving it three stars – it probably deserves three and a half, to be honest.  Three stars is not a bad rating – it’s a solid novel and given that it’s the author’s first, I expect much more goodness from Souders.

3 stars

Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence; ACE

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence was first published in 2011. It’s book one of The Broken Empire; I actually don’t know (yet) how long the series is. I would assume a trilogy, but then A Wheel of Time reminds me that some series can go on forever.  I feel like there has been a pile of new fantasy novels/series that have been released in the last two or three years. I have been in the middle of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (2007) for about a year and a half. I’m also stalled out in Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson (2008).  However, I did finish Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man (2009) and I absolutely loved that one.   The point is, I feel like I buy and am interested in reading a lot more fantasy novels than I actually sit down and read.

Part of the allure of this novel was that it was “short.” 319 pages is something a bit rare in the fantasy novel world. But look, it works; because I finished the thing in two weeks and am writing a review of it now!  The cover helped, too, because this piece by Jason Chan looks interesting. It’s not too busy and it works well for the story.

From the back cover:

When he was nine, he watched as his mother and brother were killed before him. At thirteen, he led a band of bloodthirsty thugs. By fifteen, he intends to be king…
It’s time for Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath to return to the castle he turned his back on, to take what’s rightfully his. Since the day he hung pinned on the thorns of a briar patch and watched Count Renar’s men slaughter his mother and young brother, Jorg has been driven to vent his rage. Life and death are no more than a game to him—and he has nothing left to lose. But treachery awaits him in his father’s castle. Treachery and dark magic.

The back cover blurb gives a sense of a young kid on a revenge mission. He seems ambitious and intense.  Also, there is not a heavy emphasis on magic or the traditional fantasy elements.  This sets the novel a bit apart from some of the more overtly magic-driven, demon-involved epic fantasy novels.

It’s told from the perspective of the main character, Jorg.  We meet him on the road with his band of brigands and rabble as they are burning a village. And right away the reader discovers that this kid is mean as spit.  I lost track of just how old he was, but from 12-15 years old, he really does wreck havoc on the land. Seems really unlikely, right? How does a young teenager garner the loyalty of thugs, soldiers, and criminals?  How does he have such great strategy, luck, and skill?  Well, he is definitely a unique character – even if these obvious questions run through the reader’s mind while going through the book.  And the author gives us hints and options for how Jorg operates and why throughout.  At the end the question is almost answered. It’s better to say that an answer is provided, but the answer is only a sufficient cause and not the sole cause.

The author writes very well.  This is not high literary stuff, though.  Direct sentences, never any purple prose, no overworking of anything.  The writing style suits the ruthless and direct manner of the main character perfectly. However, it can be a turn off for any readers who enjoy descriptive paragraphs, developed settings, and poetic renderings.  The writing style is crisp and clean and means business. There are plenty of killings and pillagings in the novel – and you read about them hard and fast just like they happen.  Because I think the best part of the author’s main concept for the novel is the de-pretty-ifying of epic fantasy and medieval combat. (Crossbows are cool!)  If you want to read about glorious battles and the conflicted hearts of heroes there are dozens of other novels that can provide that. Here, the author (by way of Jorg) keeps it real.  Jorg does not mince words, he doesn’t second guess, and he does not fall prey to all of those annoying flaws in characters like:  didn’t completely kill the bad guy or is indecisive and lost. Jorg handles his business – and it’s rarely pretty.

Although the impetus for the character is the deaths of his mother and brother followed by the cavalier attitude of his father (the king), the reader will not be swept up into any moping overemotive wallowing by Jorg.  There’s no demand placed on the reader for sympathy/empathy.  Simply, Jorg is a mean little snake and he is not asking for any pity or compassion – because he sure won’t show any, either. All of this is. . . .  “refreshing” . . . in a fantasy novel. I suppose refreshing is a bit of an odd word choice to describe this ruthless little kid, but this novel is refreshing because it never ever gets bogged down in emotive turmoil and meandering indecisive characters. Jorg, for better or worse, makes things happen. He will always think it’s better to act than to do nothing – even if the act is extreme.

There is some language in the novel that some sensitive readers may not approve of. Not cussing or gory graphic words, but the characters are somewhat sacrilegious and blasphemous. Readers who dislike this should take note before buying, because I can see where some people would not like this aspect.  But a cool thing about what the author is doing is that the world of Jorg is like ours – like an alternate reality. For example, there is The Church with a Pope (who is female). Jorg, as a youth, studied the philosophers (to include Plato, Plutarch, Russell, Nietzsche, etc.) And it’s really surprising and odd when you find that the author has worked in real elements of the real world into his fantasy novel.  Especially for me, a philosopher, to read about a character who references philosophers. It’s cool and I am actually surprised at how well it works and that it has not been done more in other books. Thumbs up, Mark Lawrence!  Overall, I can see this book being either two stars or four stars depending on your views toward the writing and the language. I am giving it four stars for uniqueness, surprising-ness, and brevity. Book two is available currently in hardback . . . .

4 stars

The Black Company

The Black CompanyGlen Cook’s The Black Company was first published in 1984.  It is the first in the series of books about the “Black Company.” The cover art was done by Keith Berdak and was taken from a description within the text.  The art is also some of the coolest, most gripping art of the 1980’s novels. Let’s face it; how do you see this cover in 1984 and pass it by?

The Black Company is a very odd and difficult read.  For the first 150 pages of the novel, I was generously going to give it no more than three-stars as a rating, and I spent the whole time marveling at the fact that so many readers have given it four or five-star ratings. This novel is the epitome of “character-driven” and “no detail.”  In fact, the plot itself is a bit challenging to discern until the reader is somewhere over page 220.

The difference, I think, between this character-driven novel and others, is that The Black Company is almost episodic in its structure and the characters do not really develop or change or move the storyline forward. Things happen to the characters.  The characters are perpetually caught in the current of the river that is the plot – but, that very same river is unnamed and unfamiliar to the reader, too.  The first 100 pages are easy to breeze through – except I found them aggravating and frustrating because I had no idea what was happening. Literally, no idea because it all seemed completely disconnected, random, and confused.

Yes, for the most part of this novel, the novel itself seems confused.  Not that it is confusing, but that it itself is confused. Disjointed and disconnected.  Okay, we all like mysterious plotlines once in awhile, but in the first 200 pages it definitely seems like there are some really basic, necessary points that the author has left out.  It’s like he is writing a story without writing a story at all. It does seem mad and confused.

Which is why if you are going to tackle reading this one – you have to force yourself to remain calm and keep reading.  At least until page 200.  Everything after page 200 (a mere 114 pages more) makes everything before it more sensible, reasonable, and palatable.  But can readers push themselves to read nearly 200 pages of randomized confused – HEY, I think the author LEFT SOME STUFF OUT – sort of reading?

This novel is told in the first person by the main character, Croaker.  He is a veteran medic and soldier in the mercenary troops of the Black Company.  Croaker also has the additional duty of being the Company’s Annalist.  This means he is their historian – so he is frequently called upon to witness and record events, battles, moments within the Company.  However, the novel itself is not the annals that Croaker writes.  It’s more like his in media res commentary of life within the Company – which is always punctuated by the antics of the other soldiers, the battles the Company is dispatched to fight, and the incidents that happen to the Company.

It needs to be mentioned, unlike most military/fantasy military novels, we are never ever given descriptions of anything.  I mean, you won’t learn what their uniforms look like or what gear they carry.  Readers do not discover what sorts of weapons are used or which character is most proficient in particular arms.  The end fifty pages of the novel actually depict a location under siege, which is done very well and the author deserves praise for this intense writing.  However, nowhere in the novel are there lines like: “… and then he punched him, while swooping his sword arm; but his opponent ducked and thrust his dagger forward. The clang of the dagger on his shield distracted him, so that he failed to counter with a blow from his war-anvil.”   This is decidedly not the standard “military-fantasy” that can be seen in sections of Brandon Sanderson or Steven Erikson novels.

And there are wizards and magic carpets and people get killed, brought back from the dead – trained as zombie-wizards and get to be patrons of battalions. Yes. Indeed.

So, I am giving this novel four stars because it started off as in media res randomized nothing and then got me addicted.  And it aggravated me and was confusing.  And then all of a sudden, I really was interested in what was happening and how the characters fared – although I really wasn’t entirely sure how the story had gotten to where it had. And after finishing it, I really miss the characters and the story and, though I have no solid idea about the setting whatsoever, I really want to read the next in the series. This writing style is very odd and unique.  The whole thing – whatever it may be – thoroughly grew on me, so to speak, by the end of the novel.  And now, I totally understand why so many readers rated it so highly.  Getting readers past those first 150 pages before they give up is gonna be tough!

4 stars

The Lure of the Basilisk

The Lure of the BasiliskThe Lure of the Basilisk by Lawrence Watt-Evans is the first book in The Lords of Dûs series.  It was first published in 1980 – the copy I read is the 1987 edition.  The cover art was done by Darrell K. Sweet.

There is actually quite a lot that is enjoyable about this book.  There are a few minor issues, but it was really nice to read a decent fantasy novel that did not involve elves, was under 10,000,000 pages, and did not describe every blade of grass in the country.  There were a few typos in my edition, which honestly should have been corrected by this printing – nothing major, just “It” instead of “I” and “faithly” instead of “faintly.”

The story begins in a cave with a warrior type character speaking to creepy Wise Women.  The character is imploring the women for information on how to become famous – in essence, for his name to “live forever.”  I did not really take a good attitude toward this character at this point because it seems arrogant and obnoxious and I really felt this was going to demonstrate the standard story of how glory-seeking ruins a warrior. Honestly, his request seems rather absurd, but I decided that I did not have to agree with the desire of the character in order to read the book.

This character is Garth.  He’s an overman – a race of human-like creatures who live in Ordunin – a northern peninsula. The whole novel focuses on Garth and his quest.  We next meet him in Skelleth, a rundown barony where he meets the Forgotten King in a tavern/inn.  This is where the Wise Women told him to begin his quest – he should speak to the Forgotten King and obey him.  Garth is not exactly welcome in Skelleth.  Nevertheless, the Forgotten King is a mysterious old man who hangs out in the tavern.  The Forgotten King tells Garth that he will help Garth attain glorious fame, but first he has a “trial” quest for Garth.  Garth is to travel to Mormoreth and capture the basilisk that dwells in the crypts there.

The cover depicts the scene where Garth arrives outside of Mormoreth on his warbeast (Koros) and is demanding entrance from the ruler of Mormoreth:  Shang.  The warbeast is, like the overmen, a genetically bred animal that is like a panther.  It’s trained to follow basic commands, although it did not even have a name for half of the book.  The relationship between Garth and Koros is actually kind of unique – Garth views the animal in terms of utility and pragmatic ways.  I am used to reading books where there is this overbuilt bond between characters and their animals.

In fact, much of the goodness of the novel is because Garth is actually a fairly unique character.  He shrugs a bit too much.  But he’s nearly seven feet tall, strong as an ox, a skilled warrior, and very durable.  He also doesn’t make the trope-mistakes of most fantasy characters.  It was actually interesting and fun to follow Garth through the castles, crypts, and city streets on his quest. Also, though a fierce fighter, he usually chooses not to give in to bloodshed and he tends toward more honorable actions – even though he confesses many times that he doesn’t quite understand the traditional emotions, values, and actions of humans.

The ending ties a lot together, which makes the novel feel complete.  However, there are a few things that are left open-ended so that the series can continue to the next book.  I enjoyed this book, the writing style is so fluid and comfortable that I was able to read it in about a day and a half.  I admit that four stars is probably a bit of a gift, but I did really enjoy every chapter.

4 stars

The Golden Compass

THe Golden CompassThe Golden Compass by Philip Pullman was published in 1995.  In the UK the novel is titled Northern Lights, but The Golden Compass is the USA title. It is the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy.  In 2007, a major film was released starring Nicole Kidman, Dakota Blue Richards, Daniel Craig, et al.   The edition of the novel that I read is the Del Rey 1997 edition.

In my edition, the famous author Terry Brooks (Cp. The Shannara series) wrote a short one-page introduction.  I was rather unenthused about reading the novel, but after Brooks’ introduction, I was drawn into reading it.  I do not always read introductions, but I have to say that Brooks’ intro was so encouraging that I plowed right into the book.

I have said this so often during the past year that I am beginning to sound like the oft-mentioned broken record, but here it is again.  You are going to love The Golden Compass.  It is a claim you have heard about other books, and it hasn’t always turned out to be true.  So why should you believe it this time? What makes this such a great book? Let me give you some reasons.

The novel is divided into three main parts with a total of 23 chapters.  The parts are locations wherein the story mainly takes place.

  • Oxford
  • Bolvangar
  • Svalbard

The novel is written with a mellow tone and style that definitely makes it seem like it is fit for young adult audiences.  However, I really do not think this is a book for children or for young adults. I do feel it is a book for adults. My big worry that I was reading some lame children’s book was set aside.  However, the main character of the book is a young girl.  Lyra Belacqua is a twelve-year old orphan of sorts living at Jordan College as something of a ward, but more like a pest.  Her whole life changes because of her penchant for mischief and curiosity; she sneaks into the Retiring Room at the College wherein the masters and scholars are about to receive an important guest:  Lord Asriel.

The story takes place in a parallel universe to ours, in which exists the Magisterium, a body of the Church in that world which guards against heresy.  The neat gimmick of the novel is that human souls exist externally in the form of a “dæmon,” an animal which constantly accompanies his master.  Due to some of these considerations and some other elements, the Church and many Christian organizations decried this novel (and film) calling it atheistic or subversive.  For example, the name of Lord Asriel is probably a reference to Azrael, a name of the Angel of Death in mythology.  However Asriel is also an anagram for “Israel.”  In this manner one can interpret the novel as a criticism against the Church and/or the Magisterium.  After having read the novel, I feel to do this is a bit absurd.  This novel is pure fiction – a fantasy novel.  It does not purport to be anything else.  While some of the terminology or concepts might seem to be allusions to real world organizations and beliefs, ultimately, it is our own perspectives seeing tilting at windmills.  The associations between the items in the book and the supposedly connected items in the real are tenuous and vague.  I sincerely doubt this book was supposed to represent a great treatise against any religion and I doubt it will affect anyone’s faith in any way whatsoever.

I was really surprised to see many of the steampunk elements in the novel. At first, I expected some sort of Hogwarts/Roke Island sort of story.  And, of course, I expected the main character to be entirely too headstrong and foolish.  Also, I was unsure what to make of the dæmons.  In chapter 4, Lyra is enticed by Mrs. Coulter to go to London.  Mrs. Coulter is one of those immediately dislikeable characters that somehow we all know in real life.  She’s conniving and manipulative, but shines in her role as socialite and gadfly.  Of course, as a reader I was drawn into the story at this point, really not liking what Mrs. Coulter was trying to turn Lyra into.  After this section of the book, I realized that Lyra was not going to be the bratty, dim-witted child that I thought I would have to suffer.  Instead, Lyra develops into a really well-balanced, courageous, and reasonable creature.  And maybe that’s actually the biggest fantasy in the book – it is probably impossible for any twelve-year old to be so reasonable.

As the story progresses, more elements of steampunk occur.  There are a number of noble-souled individuals who help Lyra along, but she is often left to her own devices relying on her own wits to problem solve.  I really like the characters of the bears and the witches. (I did mention this is fantasy, right?)  Bears who talk, run kingdoms, build armor, and who have a deep code of honor are really neat things to read about.  And I admit, I got attached to the character Iorek Byrnison, an exiled bear.  I think the book had a great balance of steampunk, fantasy, realism, and science in it.  Around halfway, I was thinking I might be giving the book four stars.  However, after finishing it, I realize I would be withholding a star for no real good reason.  Compared to the other books I have read and rated, I think this deserves the five stars – even if it is not a story that would interest every reader.

5 stars

 

The Shadow of the Torturer

Shadow of the TorturerThe Shadow of the Torturer is the first book in the four volume Book of the New Sun series. The Shadow of the Torturer was first published in 1980 and was nominated for the Locus Award in that year. This is the first novel that I have read by Gene Wolfe.  The book is told as if it were the reminiscences of Severian, a member of the Torturer’s Guild in the City.

This is a very weird book.  If there is a category called books that are weird (Paul Auster and China Mieville come to mind as weird-book-authors), then this surely fits in that category.  The first scene in the novel, after a bit of meandering by the main character, takes place in a cemetery and involves the desecration of a corpse and a fight with a shovel/ax.  It also introduces us to the character Voldalus, who gives Severian a coin.  This scene seems to be really important, but it’s not easy to grasp what actually occurred there. Suffice to say, this event is a major event for Severian, who often remembers it as a pivotal point in his narrative.

Severian, being a member of a Guild of Torturers, meets one of their “clients.” Client is what the guild calls it’s inmates who are to be held and tortured and/or killed. Clients are sent to the guild by the authorities, presumably for crimes they have committed. The torturer’s guild consists of only two master torturers, many journeymen, and many apprentices. When the novel begins, Severian is only an apprentice. We follow some of the timeline until he is made journeyman.

One of my biggest complaints about the novel is that we are given so little regarding the guild of torturers itself. This is a neat creation, a unique twist on medieval-like fantasy, and yet, we are not provided much information.  The author just does not give us any real glimpses into what the training of torturers is like, what the actual tortures consist of, etc.  It’s not so much that I want to read graphic accounts of torture, but if one sets up such an entity as this guild, I feel it is natural to give us something more to work with.

The Shadow of the Torturer 2Severian is sent away from the guild because he mishandles (let us say) one of the clients. He is assigned to a “village” far outside of the city to be their executioner. He does not make it out of the city, even by the end of the novel. Instead, the storyline gets really weird. There is a duel, there is a botanical garden that is a lot like Alice’s Wonderland, there is a deceitful brother and sister, there is a love interest (who is as batty as all the rest of the characters).  Frankly, the time Severian spends in the bizarre botanical garden takes up most of the book, and there are some really absurd sections in there that are just plain weird.  I actually began to despair – thinking the author had abandoned all of the plotlines he had originally set us upon and had permanently diverted to the world of the gardens. Luckily, we make it back out. For the duel. And then the spontaneous and utterly random theatre act that Severian gets involved in.

Amidst all the weird, there are some interesting ruminations that Severian engages in. One of these is in his position of the writer of his memories. Late in the book there is a really unique passage in which the author, through the pen of his character, compares writing literature to being a torturer/executioner. It’s worth my typing it out here, I think.

Many scores and sometimes many hundreds of persons come to watch an execution, and I have seen balconies torn from their walls by the weight of the watchers, killing more in their single crash that I in my career.  These scores and hundreds may be likened to the readers of a written account.

But there are others besides these spectators who must be satisfied:  the authority in whose name the carnifex acts; those who have given him money so that the condemned may have an easy (or a hard) death; and the carnifex himself.

The spectators will be content if there are no long delays, if the condemned is permitted to speak briefly and does it well, if the upraised blade gleams in the sun for a moment before it descends, thus giving them time to catch breath and nudge one another, and if the head falls with a satisfactory gout of blood.  Similarly you, who will some day delve in Master Ultan’s library, will require of me no long delays; personages who are permitted to speak only briefly yet do it well; certain dramatic pauses which shall signal to you that something of import is about to occur; excitement; and a sating quantity of blood.

The passage continues – and is worth reading. The comparisons are striking, and perhaps, give me pause in rating this novel. I suppose I wanted to give it two stars, but judging it by the very criteria of Severian in this passage, I was able to give it three.

3 stars

The Warded Man

The Warded Man

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett; Del Rey

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett was released in 2008 in the UK under the title The Painted Man.  At this time, I believe it is the first in what is going to be a five-book series.  It’s Brett’s first published novel. The edition I read is the Del Rey 2009 paperback shown in the picture.  The cover to this edition was illustrated by Larry Rostant.  For whatever it’s worth, I think this is a very cool cover because it not only looks good, but it does precisely what a cover should, viz. make you want to read the book!

My edition was 453 pages and is divided into four sections.  Frankly, the sections are somewhat unnecessary, but it makes the reader feel good when they reach a new one.  The point of view of the narrative changes every so often – if there is a rigid pattern, I confess that I missed it. Unlike many books that utilize this technique, it seemed very natural and seamless in this novel. Sometimes this technique can be jarring or interrupting.

I am giving this novel high marks for a whole lot of reasons. It is well written and does not make any of the mistakes that other fantasy novels make, nor does it fall into any of those annoying patterns so well known in this genre. In general, I think it is probably only a four star novel, but I am so very impressed with the novel and author, I have to boost it to five stars. The cover is great – and the title is great.

When I first started reading the novel I was rather skeptical and critical.  I felt the author was going to tell us a very rudimentary fantasy story.  I judged too soon.  I was skeptical about reaction to the corelings – it just seemed contrary to every aspect of human ingenuity and creativity that after hundreds of years humans would board themselves up at night from the corelings.  And then, the fact that story opens out in little village hamlets in the typical rustic and rural setting so common in fantasy novels made me feel like this was just going to be another one of those fantasy novels.  So, a young kid from the farm becomes unlikely hero and goes on quest. You know, the storyline of most fantasy novels.   But that’s not what happened here, per se.  I read onward and followed the characters to the cities, through their apprenticeships, carefully watching their development.

The characters in this novel are all likeable and, to me, they seem realistic. By this I mean, they are not whiny brats, nor are they just awesome amazing heroes. They develop and learn from their experiences.  The author does this so well, it’s very impressive.  Unlike many other novels in the genre, the reader does not get dragged through every day of the lives of the characters. Nor is every little scene filled with metaphors, descriptives, and unending tedium.  Everything that happens to the characters is not drawn out into fifteen chapters. The reactions of the characters are reasonable and probable.  The characters are all different, but do share the elements that make them important to a fantasy epic. I did not hate any of the characters in the book – even the bad guys. This is an important point because there are many deaths in the book. It’s hard to explain what I mean by my next statement, but I will try:  their deaths seem natural.

Some books/movies just kill a character suddenly in order to create interest or shock the reader. (Think of the many deaths of heroes in comic books.)  Usually, deaths in books are long drawn out attempts to prey on the reader’s sympathies.  Sometimes they are sudden and rather jarring, making the reader wonder if the death was really meaningful or reasonable with regard to the storyline.  In The Warded Man, several characters die – but it never seems forced or random.  And while the reader has built up some sympathy, the deaths seem well-placed in the storyline and not just for the sake of killing characters. Also, it keeps the novel from having a ridiculously overpopulated character list for the reader to juggle.

The three main characters, Arlen, Leesha, and Rojer, are fun and likeable. They make their mistakes, but show independence and they tend to not make the same dumb mistakes over and over.  Leesha is the main female character and she’s really a good character because she seemed the most realistic of all the characters.  It was obvious the author wanted Leesha to be strong-willed and heroic, but unlike many novels, the author was able to develop the character with tact.  Sometimes character development is just too heavy-handed and overbearing.  Leesha is an example of how a female heroine should be written.

But Arlen is my favorite. I want to be Arlen. Well, no not really.  But I think he’s a very cool character.  In his timeline he has willful moments, naive moments, and finally he is struggling with his idealistic feelings while living in the harsh reality that he understands. He has a shaved head! This is cool – because in all the fantasy epics I read, the male characters run around with long, flowing locks. Arlen also makes wise choices. He learns from his mistakes and grows as a character. One of the mistakes in fantasy novels is that the characters continually make the same mistakes, chapter after chapter, book after book.

Finally, what is known as “world-building.” Some readers seem puzzled as to if the world is an alternate version of our world. I did not really wonder this or puzzle over it. It is a world, with some similarities to ours. The author does an excellent job of world-building. Without pages and pages of exposition, the author lays out the map of the world nicely.  Hamlets, cities, deserts, and mountains are all present, but I did not have to read endless prose about what it all looks like. I guess one would say the reader is immersed in the world and is shown, not told.  This is how to build a world.

5 stars