This story is pretty typical for Fantasy in its set-up. We have a protagonisThis review originally appeared on my blog: http://weirdmage.blogspot.com
This story is pretty typical for Fantasy in its set-up. We have a protagonist that runs away from her family, and ends up being a "chosen one". Apart from the main character being female there isn't really much that is original in the basic premise. Add to that the setting is basically a School of Magic, and you wont expect too much originality. -Although it must be said that this book was first published ten years before Harry Potter first appeared in the stores, so accusing Lackey of copying Rowling when it comes to setting is totally wrong, unless you can prove Lackey has a time-machine.
The Heralds and the Companions are a great concept. And Lackey is very good at letting the reader discover more about it together with Talia, the main character. We learn a lot about the world of Valdemar and its Heralds without getting the feeling that the information is dumped on us. We are also introduced to an interesting cast of characters, they are diverse and they have a depth to them that makes them seem like real people. That we are mostly at one location helps to concentrate more of the novel on the characters, and especially Talia's, daily life. This works very well, and adds a lot to the story.
I found the story very compelling. Following Talia's journey is a very interesting story and I got hooked on really early. There are parts of the story that concern themselves with her coming to a completely alien environment and I felt that Lackey handled that nearly perfect. When the story turns to conspiracy and suspense it also works great. Lackey writes in a way that gets you invested in the events, as well as the characters involved in them. I did however feel that there was a bit of a problem with a change of pace in the latter parts of the novel, and the ending felt a bit rushed. It may be that the story would have been better if the novel was hundred pages longer. But that is really a minor niggle, I liked it enough that I immediately started on the next book in the trilogy.
This is a very good Fantasy novel, written in a lighter style than what most modern Fantasy is. There's no "gritty" here, and I think that is a strength. Lackey has written a very entertaining story that is by no means too "light" to be dismissed as fluff. If you like the Fantasy of the eighties, or is just tired of everything having to be dark and gloomy, I would strongly recommend you pick this up. It is also great to see Fantasy in an Epic setting that has a female main character, and if you ever miss that this is a must....more
This is a novel that have much in common with Fairy Tales, and its setting is very much reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights. There's also elemen This is a novel that have much in common with Fairy Tales, and its setting is very much reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights. There's also elements here that are reminiscent of traditional Epic Fantasy. After a beginning that is bound to a single city we are taken on a quest, and this quest blends Epic Fantasy with Fairy Tale in a seamless manner.
Clarke is very good at getting the Fairy Tale feel of the novel across. It's established early and never lets go as the novel progresses. But these elements don't constrain the novel, and it becomes apparent as the story progresses that it is not a simple Fairy tale re-telling. Instead it is a Fantasy novel that soon takes you on a journey through an interesting landscape. I'm always a bit skeptical of the "quest format" of Fantasy, but I needn't have had any worries here. Clarke makes the journey a very interesting one, and the change in scenery as the story progresses makes it a very interesting journey of discovery. From the desert setting of the beginning we are taken to different landscapes that become a great backdrop to this tale.
Although the story does follow a similar path to other Fantasy novels out there, there is more than enough here that sets it apart, it never feels like it's just following a formula. Clarke's main strength when it comes to the story is making the events that happen along the way unpredictable. Even when you get a sense of where the story is going she manages to get there in ways that were unexpected. While the larger through line of the story is interesting enough, there are also many small events here that are really interesting and add to the story a great deal. Clarke is very good at adding great deal of exposition and worldbuilding without bogging the story down. There's lots of little details here that makes the atmosphere of the world in the novel come alive, and that is a world where it is well worth spending some time.
There's a great deal of magic in the world Clarke has created. And that element of the book is done in a great way. It's certainly not wholly original, but what we are presented with here feels very fresh. We do get a good idea of magic's place in this world, and it feels like an integral part of it and not as an afterthought on the author's part. The way magic is done also feels very realistic, which in my opinion is a great strength in a novel like this.
We also get some very interesting characters here, especially in Ananna - who is also the one telling us this story. Clarke manages to get across early on what type of character Ananna is, and as the novel progresses we get to see her show herself as a well rounded and realistic person. She never become just a vehicle for the story, but stays believable in all she does throughout the story. Ananna does have her flaws, but those only make her become more alive, and they don't make her come off as annoying in any way.
The other main character, Naji, the assassin, is also very well realised. At first he seems a pretty standard mysterious figure, but as we get to know him better we see that he is much more than that. And despite him not always being the most forthcoming type, he does reveal that he has sides to him that make him feel like he's very much an individual formed by his past. We also meet quite a few other supporting characters along the way. Not all of them are as well developed as the main characters, but we do get to know them as more than just extras needed to get the story moving. There's especially one of them that stands out, and I think we may see more to her later. Clarke is very good at getting her characters come alive to the reader. They are interesting, and realistic, and are well worth spending a day with.
All in all this is a very good Fantasy story. Clarke takes us on a great journey, in very good company. The style the book is told in fits in perfectly with the story and adds to the novel as a whole. The Fairy Tale elements make it a great books for fans of Fantasy based around that, and the quest format makes it worth reading for fans of Epic Fantasy. And it's a novel I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to Fantasy fans of all ages. Clarke has managed to create a set of very compelling characters that inhabit a well realised and interesting world. A world it is well worth travelling to. I really enjoyed this story, and I can't wait to follow it further in later volumes.
This is one of those Epic Fantasy novels that show how far Epic Fantasy has come since the birth of its modern incarnation in 1977*. There is of cour This is one of those Epic Fantasy novels that show how far Epic Fantasy has come since the birth of its modern incarnation in 1977*. There is of course elements that you will recognise from the Fantasy novels of the 1980s, it wouldn't really be Epic Fantasy if there weren't, but this is a novel that shows how Epic Fantasy has "grown up" in the last 36 years.
I was quickly dragged into the story by Davies's writing, and after the first chapter I was already invested in the story, and the characters. When we first meet the main character, it's on the battlefield, a setting that Davies brings vividly to life, both here and later in the novel. But I want to begin with the main character, Captain of the First Company of the Antian Royal Guards, Alyda Stenna. Davies does a great job with Alyda, she's a great warrior and a great leader, but she never stops being a female. Neither is she a character that in any way is a male in "women's clothing", she is just a female soldier who has risen to lead, and in the world Davies has created that is something completely natural. What it really boils down to is that in Alyda we get a character that is very realistic, while being "larger than life" in the way a heroic lead of any work of fiction needs to be to make it through the trials and tribulations they are given.
Alyda isn't the only great character in this book, making characters that feel fully alive is one of Davies's strengths. There are no cardboard cut-outs here, but complex living people who have their own hopes and motives for what they do. We are firmly in the upper reaches of society when it comes to the main characters, but that doesn't really matter, in that it is necessary to tell this exact story. There is however many supporting characters that come from lower in the ranks, this is not solely a story of the aristocracy.
I mentioned the word "ranks" above, and it is a central theme there, we are mostly in a military setting. Something that brings us to the middle of the central conflict. A conflict I might add that is what really gives us the basis for a great story. We see what is happening through few eyes, and because of that we don't get a ringside seat to everything that is going on. It does however bring us much closer to the events that are described. The story is almost intimate in nature because of the viewpoints used, and for Epic Fantasy my experience is that can be a bit hit or miss, here it is a bullseye.
Davies writes in a way that really makes you invest emotionally in what is happening to the characters she has created. As the story progresses that creates a lot of tension. The story goes its own ways, and you just have to come along to see what is happening. You're never really sure what is going to happen, because Davies's storytelling doesn't follow a formula. What we get is instead a complex tale that really comes alive. It's also told in a raw and honest manner. There's no "Hollywood style" sanitized violence here, it's brutal and at times uncomfortable. Davies doesn't filter, but gives it to us straight. That isn't always pleasant, but it makes for great authentic writing.
It struck me when I read this how much really happened, and how much I learned about the world the story is set in. There's very little travel to show you the world, and we don't get passages where we are subjected to extensive infodumping. Still I felt I got a good grip on where all of this was happening, and also a sense that there was much outside of that yet to discover. I've tried to come up with a good way to describe the feeling this was giving me, and the closest I can come is "dense", but that is not really correct either. This does require concentration, but that is not conscious. Davies lures you into her world, and you are so invested that it takes more effort to pull yourself out. I think maybe rich and vivid is the words I'm looking for, or maybe alive. -It doesn't really matter, I'm sure you understand by now that this was a story that I really got into and enjoyed.
As you probably have gathered by now, I think this is an excellent debut by Davies. My only "complaint" is that I wish there was more to read, I really didn't want this book to end. This is an Epic Fantasy novel that showcases the genre at its best, a book you really don't want to miss, every Fantasy fan should have this in their collection. Davies is an author we hopefully will be seeing much more to in years to come, I know I'll be eagerly awaiting her next novel.
NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from the author. _____ *1977 saw the publication of The Sword of Shannara (Terry Brooks) and the first Thomas Covenant book Lord Foul's Bane. I don't remember where I saw this mentioned as the birth of modern Fantasy, but the article made a very good case for it. And since I use it here, I obviously agree.
Unsurprisingly this book follows directly on from the events of "The Dragon Keeper". It does start off with a info-dump prologue that at first glance Unsurprisingly this book follows directly on from the events of "The Dragon Keeper". It does start off with a info-dump prologue that at first glance looks like a unnecessary read if you come directly from the previous book. But the prologue not only recaps the events of book one, Hobb has hidden some interesting new info in it, so it is an essential read.
This book takes place wholly away from the civilization of the Rain Wilds, and follows the journey of the dragons and their keepers further into the wilds. Not only the physical wilds of the Rain Wild River, but also the wild landscape of the human psyche. Parts of the book looks at the dynamics of a group of individuals who are cut off from civilization. Some of what happens reminded me of "Lord of the Flies", and i would not be surprised if Hobb has drawn some of her inspiration from William Golding's novel.
There is a bit more action here than in "The Dragon Keeper", and the overall pace of events is stepped up a bit. There are still passages that are largely devoted to character building, and that is certainly still a large part of the story, but there is quite a few events happening in the physical world too. It quickly becomes clear that there actually was a bit more happening in book one than was told to the reader. This was mostly very natural, as it was hidden from the point of view characters at the time. One development did make me feel a bit cheated as I felt the character should have noticed earlier, or at the very least had a feeling of something going on.
One thing that there is certainly more of here than in book one is romance. Not that it is in any way turned into a "Romantic Fantasy", but there is a bit of "action" in the book. This comes naturally with the story, and at least one of the developing relationships has been telegraphed since early in the previous book. Robin Hobb also manages to sneak in some surprises on the romance front, and one of them comes as such a surprise that I doubt anyone will catch on before the reveal.
What was the most interesting part of the book for me was finding out about the relationship between humans, dragons and elderlings. This is revealed in more detail here than in any of Hobbs previous works. This relationship between three races is something that has been part of Robin Hobb's fantasy world since "The Farseer Trilogy" and to see what looks like most of the mysteries revealed is very satisfying.
Having mentioned earlier in this review that there is more action here than in "The Dragon Keeper", I feel the need to say that it is by no means an action oriented adventure. But as with the previous volume in "The Rain Wild Chronicles" I felt that the slow pace fitted the story. I've read several reports that these two books were first intended as one, and I have no trouble believing that. It might be possible to read this book as a standalone, but I would definitely recommend you read these to books as a split volume and begin with the first one.
The ending of this book, and as far as I know "The Rain Wild Chronicles", was a bit of a letdown. Not because it was a badly written ending, or that it didn't finish the story. It did however leave me with a lack of closure that almost screams for a follow up. I hope it comes in the form of another trilogy from Robin Hobb, and that she's working on it now, because I want to read it as soon as possible.