D.P. Prior's Reviews > Raven's Heart: A Tale from Secramore

Raven's Heart by M.S. Verish
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's review
Sep 17, 2011

really liked it
Read from February 12 to September 17, 2011 — I own a copy

Review of The Forging by M.S. Verish.

This is a review of book 1, The Forging, only:

This is an epic fantasy in the old style, by which I mean there is no adherence to strict point of view, there is a wealth of fantastical happenings and beings, a lack of gritty “realistic” violence, and an absence of bad language.

In many ways, that was extremely refreshing. It’s a book in which to immerse yourself and breath in the aroma of the world of Secramore without a mirror being held up to your face showing you how terrible the real world is (which seems to happen a lot in popular modern fantasy).

The characters are distinctive and fairly easy to empathize with. Arcturus, the scholarly pariah, is a tetchy old Gandalf type, right down to his penchant for pipe smoking. Like most academics, he gets a bit over-specialized and myopic, which leads to the somewhat selfish abandonment of his partner, Eribeth. This was certainly a brave move by the authors, as I never fully liked Arcturus as a person from that moment on. He’s entertaining, for sure, and an utter know-it-all, but he’s also flawed. Those flaws are revealed further during his interactions with the enigmatic Kariyayla and the delightful Jinx.

I loved some of the mundane things the characters do, especially early on with Eribeth, who was terrific, but at times the pacing suffered as a result. Pace was also hurt by the nature of the plot: the premise of Arcturus’s quest just wasn’t compelling enough for me. I didn’t believe in his motivation, nor in his willingness to leave Eribeth behind. It was a vague search for a tracker who could then lead Arcturus and Kariyayla to find a former mentor named William. I got the sense it was harder to find the tracker than the man they wanted him to track.

The events that triggered Arcturus’s decision to leave never really added up for me. There was little urgency to the journey, no sense of anything to be averted, anyone to save. At times it felt more like an aimless road-trip without much focus.

The book really came alive at about 40% through when Jinx appears. His POV was well-written, and given a bit more time, without another character’s POV intruding. The Forging is always best when there is consistent (and sustained) POV. The head-hopping became irritating at times—I’d just start to settle into a character only to find myself in someone else’s head. The few scenes where this doesn’t happen (Eribeth, Jinx, and Kariyayla’s were most memorable) the writing reached new levels. If each scene had been reserved to a single POV, I think reader identification would have been much easier.

There were some other POV issues that got in the way of my enjoyment of the book. In a couple of scenes, characters are described but not named. Their descriptors are then used as speech tags, even when we have access to their POV thoughts. This sort of thing destroys the illusion. The dramatic intention is to be enigmatic or mysterious, but it only served to frustrate this reader.

Language was mostly good, but there were occasional forays into fantasy-speak and verbosity. The style of some chapters was appreciably different to others in this respect, and that may indicate one of the pitfalls of co-writing. Whilst there were not very many spelling errors, there were some grammatical oddities and quite a few redundant words and phrases, word omissions, and borderline usages.
Dialogue was mostly very good. I always knew when Arcturus was speaking (pompous git!) and Jinx’s dialect was subtle and easy to read. Not so for some of the other characters, including the White Demon, when the word contractions really drew too much attention and catapulted me out of the story.

It’s a tough one to call as I really liked some of the characterization. There were also some spells of very good prose (always when the author was keeping it simple), and nice use of POV from time to time. It’s worth reading for these things alone, and it may be that my issues with the plot are simply a matter of expectation. Perhaps there doesn’t always have to be an urgent battle to save the world; maybe the protagonist doesn’t have to have his farm burned to the ground by evil raiders, forcing him to seek justice or revenge. There is something quite earthy and mundane about these characters, in spite of their undeniably exotic natures. In this sense, they are like Chesterton’s ideal protagonist—an ordinary person who explores an extraordinary world whilst we look on.

Writing style: 4/5

Technically very competent, but occasional fluctuations in style and a tendency to be overly wordy.

Characterization: 4/5

Good relationships with satisfying access to inner thoughts and motives. Weakened by the omniscient style (head-hopping).

Plot: 2/5

Not compelling enough for me. There were also a few lapses of focus (the introduction of peripheral characters for the odd scene). The stakes never felt high enough.

World building: 4/5

A great map, but very little sense of geography and distance came across in the writing. I didn’t get much of a feel for the politics politics, and there were a few cliched elements in the culture. That said, once or twice I felt transported. It’s a world I’d be interested in seeing more of.

My overall impression is that this is a well-written tale that should appeal to lovers of old-style high fantasy. This is not my preferred sub-genre (Gemmell, Moorcock, R.E. Howard etc are more to my taste; the style here reminded me more of Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, and Ursula LeGuinn).

If you prefer your fantasy to be intelligent, slower in pace, and devoid of graphic violence, swearing, and heroic machismo, you would do well to take a look at The Forging.

Rating: 3.5/5
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