3.25 of 5 stars.
I’m trying something new: starting my review with the blurb from Goodreads:
“Still reeling from an ancient war, the world has begun showing signs of unraveling. To save their world, a select group of the most gifted elite must form an alliance and find a solution before it is too late.
But, can these historically incompatible members of the remaining nations cooperate despite their ancestral biases and distrust? Or, will shadows consume them before they uncover the secret of The Raging One?”
This book is complete in itself, but it left me with the pleasant sense that I’d explored only one room of a huge mansion full of treasures yet unseen. The epic scale of the tale piqued my interest, but the difficulty of cramming so many big ideas into the limits of a single novel may be the reason some things did not satisfy me.
I’ll start with what I enjoyed in a handy list format:
1. Character interplay: phenomenal dialogue & excellent, realistic tension. Superb.
2. Magic & religion: detailed, intriguing systems, complete and coherently presented.
3. Culture: often the downfall of epic fantasy, the quality of this really stood out for me. The nations and societies are built on familiar foundations without ever falling into stereotype or cliche.
4. Characters: the protagonists are all clearly designed to fulfill epic roles, but they fill their big hero shoes with verve and style. I never felt that minor characters were minor. Everyone had lives and motives and pasts, and as I pointed out in #1, they spoke and reacted to events in ways that made emotional sense.
I really enjoyed the way relationships developed — or didn’t — over the course of the book. Life is complicated, change is hard, and trust takes courage. All those truths were handled with sensitivity and realism.
As for the points that bugged me, I will again default to a simple list:
1. Saidisms: action words like “seethed” or “frowned” used as dialogue tags. I know reader feelings run high about these, pro and con. I only notice when they make no sense to me, but then they set my teeth on edge. I nearly put down the book when I hit a “Stupid beast,” the middle rider seethed, on page 1. I’m immensely glad I continued, but if saidisms are like fingernails on a blackboard for you, it might be a deal-breaker.
2. Terminology & naming conventions: I struggled to stay afloat in the first few chapters. The flood of jargon and job titles, deity names, place names and other proper nouns overwhelmed me. Usually I love immersion reading–diving straight into worlds full of new words is a vocabulary adventure, but this book taxed my ability to assign meaning by context, especially early on. The glossary at the end of the book became my best friend. (oh, how joyful I was to discover it!)
3. Villain. I love a good bad guy, even a melodramatically mustache-twirling black hat who is clearly Up To No Good from the beginning, but…but. I had a hard time with one of the antagonists. The elements of the plot that revolved around the most obvious bad guy in the mix disappointed me, especially compared to the larger, sweeping war of greater powers that took shape over the course of the book.
I am thoroughly intrigued by the direction the Bigger Story is taking. I can recommend this novel to anyone who loves a sweeping story with big ideas, bonds with heroic heroes and heroines, and enjoys juicy, complex interpersonal conflicts.
Final note: the star rating will bump to 4 for Amazon because that’s their version of “I liked it,” and I cannot justify less. This book is good with gems of real brilliance in it.
See all the books I’ve given an in-depth blog review here: My book reviews