What I gleaned about the story: A complex, detailed world is about to get even more complicated. War is coming.
Find this book on Amazon.
Marketing note: Apparently, this title is not available in Canada. There’s no indication of whether this Is this an oversight on the part of the author, or a cunning strategy, so mark it down as just a curious fact. Maybe we’re being punished for Bieber.
Analysis: The book opens with a lengthy description of the journey from the far-flung reaches of the kingdom to Middanhal, its principal city, then on to the Citadel, the seat of power. Along the way, it describes all sorts of details about the kingdom: trade, geography, fortifications, main thoroughfares, economics, alliances, and ongoing power struggles.
I get the sense that the city is going to become a crucial setting in this novel; Middanhal and I will need to get acquainted. And as a piece of world-building, it’s well written and well thought out. For a little while, it was immersive in its own right. But after a few minutes, I started to disengage. The child in the back seat of my subconscious kept kicking my seat and asking, “Are we there yet? How many more miles? Are we there yet?”
“Shut up and appreciate this gorgeous scenery or I’ll turn this car around and drive straight back home!”
Crud. Now the child is crying. Once we get to the Citadel, there’ll be a swimming pool. Won’t that be fun?
That settles the kid down for a bit. But I’m wondering if all this buildup to the Citadel will be worth it.
Analysis: The narrative arc seemed to aim straight for the heart of the Citadel. So I expected that once we got there, I’d be introduced to its inhabitants. But upon arriving, the Citadel is described in lengthy detail. Again, it’s good worldbuilding, stuff that might totally work for readers with a deeper appreciation for lengthy epic fantasy. And the details seem to promise intrigue, power struggles, courtly shenanigans. Good stuff is ahead.
But the kid still wants to go swimming, and my credit card keeps declining. Okay, it’s time to drop that metaphor before it collapses under its own weight.
Analysis: We finally meet the first character, the Quill. He’s the king’s scribe and historian, but also (apparently) wears the hat of court spymaster. While his young apprentice listens in, he receives a report from one of his spies. The Quill reads between the lines, and infers that the neighboring kingdom of Alcázar is building a fleet of ships. He and the spy talk it over, becoming increasingly certain that war is coming.
The scene is excellent, the sort of thing I was hoping to find at the end of the road to the Citadel.
It ends a little flatly, with the Quill explaining to his apprentice that it will be a couple of years before the war itself arrives. Having felt some impatience with the pacing so far, this comes as disappointing news.
Analysis: And they continue to walk for an extended stretch. The pair are described at length, as is their walk through the Temple gates and inside, describing the scenery as they go. Though we have a pair of silent tour guides now, we’re still firmly locked into worldbuilding mode. There are hints that the knights are there for an important reason, and the politics between the Temple and the Citadel are probably going to play a pivotal role in the story. The author is moving pieces onto the board.
But setting up the board isn’t the same as playing. When I found myself skimming ahead to find some more “good stuff,” I knew the immersive spell was broken again.
The astute reader has already noted that I handed out all three WTFs for recurring issues of pacing, and that when things are happening (even if it’s just two people talking) the book shines.
A few small changes might have tugged me through the longer worldbuilding stretches. For example, changing the impersonal journey to the Citadel into Sidi’s (the spy’s) journey, and make it clear up front that he’s carrying a message that will determine the fate of the kingdom. Plus, a closer, boots-on-the-ground description of the same material might have gripped me a little tighter.
A similar mini-hook might have given me some investment in the two knights’ journey into the temple. A quick exchange of words, something to establish their personalities and hint at their purpose, might have convinced me the two knights were interesting enough to follow inside. A sheen of interest could be added to all the descriptions if they were seen through the eyes of the younger knight, who perhaps has never been inside the Temple before.
But I can only speak for myself. There are undoubtedly readers who will love the book as it is. The prose is strong, and when the narrative hits its stride it’s quite good. If you love epic clashes of kingdoms and enjoy intricate worldbuilding—or at least don’t mind it as much as I seem to—this might be the book to take you on that journey.
Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.