This was read for the final round of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 hosted by Mark Lawrence, more of which can be read here. I have recently taken over for Bibliotropic for the final four novels – right at the end of this massive event – so I’m one of ten judges. This event is the same one that previously found ‘The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids‘ by Michael McClung as the winner – a book I adored.
I’ve always held an open mind to self-publishing – many friends through NaNoWriMo since 2004 onwards found mild-success this way; I was a reader of Michael J. Sullivan and on the same writing forum as he for a few years; and I was on the panel that chose the first self-published work for Best Fantasy Novel in the Aurealis Awards (which then went on to get a publishing deal), the very lovely Mitchell Hogan for his ‘A Crucible of Souls‘.
That said, this book was good – pretty good, in part, but not great. It’s the famous Epic Quest novel we’re all used to, but can’t help but enjoy. There’s a land we’re introduced to immediately as being a land that few can pass successfully. In the blurb itself it says invincible warriors have set off to investigate but have never returned. Now however, they must be able to make it through for various high powered and high financed reasons. A strong group are put together in order to make this all possible – two female characters only, sadly, and of course one is a seer… – through I have to admit that throughout the novel all the characters do show twists on the usual expectations/cliches, which also made it more engaging to read. The romance, however, was not one of the stronger elements of the novel.
The action however, is excellent. It keeps the pace well and makes the book a fast read because you can’t put it down when there’s an action sequence. And it’s no surprise that these work well and are part of the stronger element of the novel, as the author is a Sergeant in the Canadian Forces. The fight sequences aren’t over-written, either – you can visualise them perfectly in your mind but there’s little to no info-dumping throughout the whole book – even when meeting the characters initially and getting to learn their backstory.
The world-building is limited, but you still feel like you have a good handle on the story. It’s definitely character-driven (my favourite kind), and you do get to know parts said in passing, but most is given as describing the people in the world – the Kel-tii and the Ashai – as being basically the Japanese and the Irish. Parts of this were mild personal irks to me, as I find it hard to read a book that does anything Japanese-inspired well (the curse of knowing something too well), though this is of a very personal note to me, and I didn’t take it into account with my final score.
All in all, this was a decent book. It could use a sharp editor to ease several plot points and character interactions into something a little more human and possible, and some general sentence flow here and there – but this is certainly readable, and quite enjoyable.