Another re-post, this time of a recent independent book I reviewed. As always, I will review independent books, but I will be honest.
First, the horribly truncated summary: Claire Frasier escapes her country’s invasion and constant impending doom.
(Hello again, Jamie and Claire! I gave up on you after the directionless narrative that was The Fiery Cross. I did miss you though.)
Full disclosure: I received this book from Goodreads First Reads program! Awesome program! Highly recommended!
I was thrilled to receive this book. When I saw the message from Goodreads that I won and the cover wasn’t a horrible use of Photoshop (Kudos to the designer), I thought it would be an awesome read.
I wish I could say it was.
Bottom line? The story would have been vastly improved with more drafts and time spent on world building.
I should start at the beginning. The story centers on Aislin, who is the unmarried sister to the (long dead) King of Arianrhod* and Regent until her nephew Bryce comes of age. She has been a stellar regent for eleven years, managing the day to day affairs of the kingdom. However, she also has had to fend off the advances of Jariath, Prince of Morrigan, who wants both her and Arianrhod for himself. After the last refusal of marriage, Jariath invades her country. Aislin and members of her family narrowly escape and decide to seek help from King Stanis** of Wyndham, who is related by marriage and training Bryce in matters of rule. In order to get there quickest, Aislin must go through the fabled (and dangerous) Blackthorne Forest.
The bulk of the story is Blackthorne Forest, but to avoid spoilers, I’ll stop there.
Most of my problems were in the beginning, the pre-Forest setup. The first thing I saw when I cracked this book was a map. I love maps. The second thing I saw was the really large font size. It’s probably something that only teachers and other graders-of-papers notice, but it stuck out like a sore thumb to me.
We get to our setting: July 23, 1692, Kingdom of Arianrhod. When your family and friends come from Salem, that year resonates. It’s the reason most fantasy texts go with their own month/year system.
Finally, I get to the meat of the text, which starts with a conversation between Aislin and Devin, her “right-hand-man-in-all-things”. We have no context when this conversation starts, so we’re left filling in the details as we go. This is not the only time a scene starts without context, hence why I cannot let it go. Indeed, the entire book is carried by conversation and mental thoughts. Immersion and detail are lacking everywhere, which is a death sentence for a fantasy book.
We also deal with multiple points of view. These weren’t bad in the middle and end of the book, but in the beginning they change so rapidly (some only two pages) that getting rid of most (if not all) of them would serve the book well. Any time we had Brock, Jariath’s assistant, or Jariath as the point of view, the information relayed was repeated in Aislin’s point of view, making the former chapters (or chapter parts) unnecessary.
Also, I had a few nitpicky questions come up while I was reading. For example: How does Morrigan afford thousands of soldiers when their country is inland (no ports) and swampy (no agriculture)? What is Morrigan’s economy based on? Why doesn’t Arianrhod have a standing army? (“Years of peace” doesn’t cut it with this history major. I’d invade on principle.) Why is Bryce five on the back cover and sixteen in the book itself? Who exactly is Roderick? Thankfully, he’s eventually given a pre-narrative role and profession, but it’s too little too late.
Those details, coupled with the deus ex machina (MS Word really doesn’t like Latin, I just found out) escape from the invasion, really hinder the book’s beginning. When I reached Blackthorne Forest, I honestly believed that I arrived at the book the author really wanted to write: a fantasy romance. The detail problems eased and the story progressed with only minor interruption from Jariath and the invasion issue. Due to the setup, with Aislin coming in from outside Blackthorne, it did have many of the same elements as the Outlander series. I wouldn’t call it a bad thing, as those elements are probably in many romances, but I did take notice.
Most of the characters were decently done, save for two major issues. Jariath severely needed more development in order to be more threatening and less ridiculous. Emara (Aislin’s mother) has terrible dialogue that made me wonder if the author was hashing out her own issues rather than creating a good character.
There were also writing/grammar/spelling issues (Lead male’s name is misspelled once, fyi) and italic font was everywhere for unnecessary emphasis, but I was able to get past those. In fact, had the book ended a few chapters earlier, I would have given it 3 stars. Instead, the ending trailed too long and erased all possible future conflict with another deus ex machina, hence the 2 star rating. It was okay, but it could have been awesome.
*The Welsh connection was not lost on me, but I can bet it would be lost on other readers.
**Normally, I’d forgive names. This is one I would have changed. It constantly reminded me of Stannis Baratheon*** from the Song of Ice and Fire series. Now that the series is popular on HBO as “Game of Thrones” and Stannis is played with distinct characteristics by Stephen Dillane, it sticks out.
***King Stannis Baratheon, first of his name, Lord of Light and Azor Ahai reborn. If we’re going to address him, we may as well do it properly.