Overall Rating: Highly Recommended (How I Rate Books)
Personal Rating: Satisfying Authorial Voice, Great Characters, Enjoyed it Greatly
Genres: Fantasy, High Fantasy, Adult
Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:
Look out for spoilers!
This is a great way to start a year of reviews! ‘Transformation’ by Carol Berg is an excellent book. This book reminded me of ‘The Curse of Chalion’ in all the best ways. ‘Curse’ is one of my favorite books, and probably one of the best Fantasy novels of all time, so this similarity is an excellent thing. This novel follows a slave as he transforms from being a broken husk of a man to a powerful (if still a bit broken) spiritual warrior.
Seyonne has been a slave for half his life. Before, he was a warrior from a tribe of demon hunters. Seyonne fought demons as a Warden, wielding potent magics in the defense of mankind. But the Derzhi empire conquered his people, and Seyonne was captured.
Seyonne was enslaved for sixteen years, breaking him in body and soul, stripping him of magic. He lost his innocence, his dignity, his self respect. He no longer tries to escape, because he’s been so tainted by his slavery that his family will no longer take him back. He’s traded from master to matter, beaten and tortured and raped and starved. Seyonne survives by living in the moment, never thinking more than a few minutes into the future, crushed by the weight of his misery.
Finally he finds his way into the household of Prince Aleksander of the Derzhi.
Aleksander is an asshole. He beats Seyonne for back talk. Aleksander murders his enemies when it’s convenient. Alex’s debauchery is legendary. He has no redeeming value. Not that Seyonne cares. Seyonne has given up on life, so he doesn’t care about anything.
But then demons begin attacking Aleksander.
Seyonne must make a choice: allow the evil demons to have their victory and thereby revenge himself upon his wicked master, or fulfill his oaths as a spiritual Warden to defeat demons and save the life of the man who regularly beats Seyonne.
Thematically, this was a lovely book.
I liked the prose. At moments quite beautiful, the prose was a delight to read.
The pacing was good overall, but a bit unstable. I liked the slow-but-steady pacing the book began with, but slightly disliked how it sped up greatly at the 2/3’s mark. I would have liked it better if it were a slower burn towards the end.
The book’s narrative structure was okay. I felt as though Seyonne’s and Aleksander’s character arcs were slightly too sped up. I don’t say this very often, but in this case I think this book could have been longer. I would have liked if the story had another 50-100 pages to flesh out the character development. To be sure it doesn’t need those extra pages. The book felt snappy and lean, excellent traits in a novel. But a little more time for the characters to grow and form a relationship would have been welcome.
And to be sure, the characters are the highlight of this book. Seyonne must recover his sense of self-worth after a decade and a half of slavery, and Aleksander must learn to be a decent human being for the first time in his entire life. And those character arcs were a delight to read.
But this book ain’t perfect. My biggest problem was that the plot felt like two arcs stapled together. Not to get into any details, but there was a sudden change in setting midway through the book and with that change came a new set of characters and plot points. That change felt a little clunky, not fully integrated.
This is the first book I’m reviewing for the year, and I can already tell this is going to be on my list of top 10 books of the year.