New Book Review 15: A Threat of Shadows

The fifteenth book I’m reviewing (geez, these things just keep going) is A Threat of Shadows, the first of the Keeper Chronicles series by J.A. Andrews. It’s another high fantasy novel, set in a medieval world populated by humans, dwarves, elves, dragons, wizards, and various mystical monsters. It also has the distinction of being, so far, the best indie novel I’ve read.

The protagonist’s hero and protagonist is Alaric, whose occupation as a Keeper enables him to have various magical abilities and a wide range of arcane knowledge. When Alaric’s wife Evangeline is bitten by a poisonous snake he embarks on a quest to find an antidote for her, which puts him in the path of a plot to resurrect a long-dead wizard of a wicked group called Shade Seekers.

In many ways the novel seems to follow several fantasy tropes that have been used to the point of cliché. Alaric is a quest in a traditional fantasy land, and he eventually becomes part of a traveling party with an old wizard, a gruff dwarf, an ethereal elf, a blacksmith, and a milkmaid. That trope, the diverse wandering fellowship, has been done many times before. However, without going too far into spoilers, this book turns the trope on its head in an unexpected and spectacular way. I’m always impressed by writers who can take the familiar aspects of a genre and do something new with them, and A Threat of Shadows does that especially well.

A major part of the book’s appeal for me was that it had a sense of wonder to it. I’ve noticed a trend with a lot of recent fantasy that the books sometimes take themselves very seriously. A Song of Ice and Fire, despite all that’s good about it, doesn’t have that sense of wonder. I don’t think the indie fantasy novels I’ve previously reviewed on this blog had it either. Books with a sense of wonder don’t try so hard to be gritty or realistic. They allow themselves to be playful, to do impossible things because impossible things are fun. The Harry Potter series is an especially prominent example of this. So is Piers Anthony’s A Spell for Chameleon of the Magic of Xanth series, but I strongly disliked that one for other reasons. Many fantasy novels written for children or young adults have that playfulness. I would not say that A Threat of Shadows is aimed at children or young adults (though it doesn’t have anything that would lead most parents to prohibit it), but it still has that playfulness and wonder.

A side-effect of that playfulness and wonder is that the characters occasionally benefited from having just a little too much luck in their quest (which, as the story progresses, shifts from healing Evangeline’s wife to preventing the return of the villainous wizard). In another book this might bother me, but in this case I’m okay with it.  The writing was also very good, mostly without any grammatical or formatting mistakes.

To wrap this up, I would definitely recommend this book to fans of fantasy. If you’re into anything from J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, and so on, you’ll most likely enjoy this book.

And now once again, the plug. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here: New Book Review 1New Book Review 2New Book Review 3New Book Review 4New Book Review 5New Book Review 6New Book Review 7New Book Review 8New Book Review 9New Book Review 10New Book Review 11New Book Review 12New Book Review 13New Book Review 14

If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.

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New Book Review 14: Mercy for the Serpent

The fourteenth book I’m reviewing is Jaclyn Lewis’s novel Mercy for the Serpent. It’s billed on Amazon as science fiction, but by my reading it fits more closely with fantasy. The characters inhabit an Earth-like world called Trelisor, and their society is relatively primitive. This world has two factions locked in a centuries-old war, while a smaller faction called the Gleaners live in the jungles and deserts while survivor through thievery against the two main factions. Our protagonist is a young Gleaner named Phinehas (“the serpent”), a thief who unintentionally kills a man (Valahar) while stealing from him. The story’s plot centers on the consequences of this murder as Phinehas attempts to flee from the rigid justice of Valahar’s people, who include the victim’s wife Azira and brother Goeh’el.

The book is Christian-themed fiction, and this becomes clear fairly quickly. The conflict focuses on the decision by Valahar’s brother as to whether Phinehas should be justly executed for his crime, or whether he should be shown mercy. It’s difficult to review this book without giving away spoilers, but in the book Goeh’el chooses mercy and makes a plainly Christ-like sacrifice by choosing to be executed in Phinehas’s place. As the rest of the book goes, the rest of Valahar’s people must cope with this unusual decision while Phinehas must learn to live with his pardon.

The writing is quite beautiful. There are lots of vivid descriptions and flowery poetic language, which was initially was a little off-putting for me. Once I was further in and better adjusted to the writing style, it didn’t bother me. The fictional society was also very believable, which I appreciated.

I’ve had some issues with Christian fiction in the past, because I’ve seen a lot of it done badly. Often it is essentially a sermon disguised as a story, and the quality of the narrative suffers because the characters and events are secondary to the message. Christian fiction that avoids this pitfall can achieve great things. I consider C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy a good example of this, and some books of his Chronicles of Narnia are also good examples (not all are, but some are). Mercy for the Serpent, as a work of Christian fiction, avoids that pitfall for most of the book. Phinehas, Goeh’el, and Azira are characters with personalities and desires apart from just being characters in a sermon. When they are well-written, they are very well-written. That being said, towards the end of the book this pitfall became more prominent. I had the feeling that the author wanted to cram in as many Biblical allusions and references as possible (the Good Samaritan, Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, the divine name I Am Who I Am), and they didn’t all fit so well. The message of the book was strong, but many of the Biblical references felt like they were put in just for the sake of having Biblical references instead of because they contributed to the narrative.

Overall, I liked the book. The prose is very good and the setting is memorable, and it had a central theme that I certainly recognize and agree with. It was heavy-handed with its theme, but not enough to seriously detract from the book’s quality. I can certainly recommend it for Christian readers and fans of C.S. Lewis or Madeleine L’engle. It was appropriate for younger readers as well, so parents could suggest it to their children as well.

And now as always, the plug. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here:

New Book Review 1New Book Review 2New Book Review 3New Book Review 4

New Book Review 5New Book Review 6New Book Review 7New Book Review 8New Book Review 9New Book Review 10New Book Review 11New Book Review 12New Book Review 13

If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.

New Book Review 13: A Spell in the Country

The thirteenth book I’m reviewing is Morgan Smith’s A Spell in the Country, a novel of the high fantasy series The Averraine Cycle. It’s written in first person and is stylistically similar to Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series or George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, though much smaller in scope and ambition.

The narrative follows Keridwen, a soldier and a young woman in the army of Keraine, a land caught in a long and arduous war against the neighboring land of Camrhys. Keridwen—or Keri, as she is more often called—is a tough and capable soldier, initially accused of treason against the kingdom but permitted to return to service at the backwater stronghold of Penvarron. While in Penvarron, Keri gets caught up in a sorcerous conspiracy against Keraine. She finds herself being used as a pawn in the power struggle between those loyal to Keraine and those covertly working for Camrhys, a struggle that gains supernatural aspects.

The writing excels in this novel. Keri’s voice and perspective comes through strongly, and while the pace is fairly slow, she is an engaging and believable-enough character to hold the reader’s interest throughout the book. The greatest strength to this book was its level of detail. The writing doesn’t gloss over the challenges of being a medieval soldier. It’s specific, and it’s gritty, and I must confess that I felt a little bit of envy toward the author for conveying that world more convincingly than I have in my own work. Morgan Smith seems to have done her research exceptionally well, and I commend her for that. The worldbuilding was also impressive for me, not because it was especially complex but because it was believable. The world of the story is very close to the real one. This isn’t fantasy with elves and dwarves and orcs and magic wands, instead it’s a credible medieval world in which magic exists in small subtle ways, primarily feared by the common people. The magic and ritual of the world is at odds with the official religion of the population (led by priests who worship a goddess), which also impressed me with its proximity to the way that belief in magic and ritual is at odds with authoritative beliefs in the real world. The book also handles suspense very well. Without giving away any spoilers, there is a lengthy section of the novel in which an unknown antagonist is murdering Penvarron soldiers and Keri must try to work out who it is, and the way suspense and fear were conveyed in that section was outstanding.

I did say that the pace is slow, and that’s worth considering if you favor fast action-packed fantasy novels. I would not say that the book is boring at all, but it’s not a thriller. It takes some patience and dedication from the reader to see it all through to the end. That being said, there was hardly anything wrong with it, and I quite enjoyed it. I’d definitely recommend it for fans of medieval fantasy and high fantasy.

And now as always, the plug. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here:

New Book Review 1New Book Review 2New Book Review 3New Book Review 4

New Book Review 5New Book Review 6New Book Review 7New Book Review 8New Book Review 9New Book Review 10New Book Review 11New Book Review 12

If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.

New Book Review 12: Dreamscape

The twelfth book I’m reviewing here is Jenna Whittaker’s standalone novel Dreamscape. It’s a work of fantasy, though it doesn’t quite fit into any fantasy sub-genre that I’m familiar with. I almost want to say that Whittaker has established an entirely new fantasy sub-genre with it, but I’ll need to see if there are many similar books before jumping to that conclusion.

In the story, god-like beings vie for power in an alternate dimension called the Dreamscape. The mortal world suffers for the struggles between the gods, with the god Watcher and his allies The Sisters serving on the side of good and the cyborg-goddess Machina opposing them. To check Machina’s power, the gods execute a plan to have one of their number, the god Keeper, born in the form of a human named Khalos. As a human, he has no memory of his divinity or his power, and the main narrative follows him as he tries to work out who he is and why he’s in his position. I find the premise absolutely fascinating. It alludes to a variety of mythic and religious figures going back for thousands of years (Jesus, Krishna, every demigod-figure) and leads the reader to imagine the confusion and pain that would come with such a role.

The world of the Dreamscape has fantasy elements both familiar and unique. The gods manifest their power in different forms there, magic is carried out through singing, and mighty black gryphons travel between the world of the gods and the world of humans as the need dictates. The world of the humans in the novel seemed for the most part to be medieval-ish, but really that wasn’t clear to me. There seemed to be some modern conventions in it, so it’s hard to say.

One reason it’s hard to say the precise nature of the world is the author’s particular style of writing. The story is slow. There’s not a ton of concrete description, instead we spent most of the story inside of Khalos’s head and experiencing the world through his confused thoughts as he processes the mysteries that he encounters. The two adjectives that best describe the slow style, in my opinion, are ‘contemplative’ and ‘dreamlike’. Fans of fast-paced action and razor-sharp dialogue probably won’t enjoy this style. Personally, I loved it. It was different, but it was never boring. It’s a stretch, but it brought to my mind some aspects of the style of W. Somerset Maugham.

One problem does arise from this style though, and it served as a detractor at certain points. When the story does call for action, its impact is lost. This is especially prominent near the end of the story. There is fighting and warfare, but the dreamlike style softens it a little too much.

Overall, the book is both strong and unique, and I enjoyed every minute I spent reading it. It’s unique to the point that I can’t say exactly who the best target audience would be, but patient and thoughtful readers who enjoy fantasy and mythology should take pleasure in it.

And now as always, the plug. If you liked this book review, you can see my others here:

New Book Review 1New Book Review 2New Book Review 3New Book Review 4

New Book Review 5New Book Review 6New Book Review 7New Book Review 8New Book Review 9New Book Review 10New Book Review 11

If you are a fan of fantasy, you can look into my own book, Tales of Cynings Volume I, in print format here or Kindle format here.