Spoilers Below! You’ve been warned. Also, all reviews are subjective. My opinions are my own. I’m writing this review as an author critiquing another author’s book, in an attempt to improve my own writing.
This is my second review by this author, after my review of ‘The Rage of Dragons.’ As a summary, I remember enjoying ‘Rage,’ but I also had some pacing flaws with ‘Rage.’ (Namely, I felt the Act 2 montage sequence dragged on for too long.) I had similar problems with this book, but not nearly to the same extent. In total, I felt that the author has improved across the board in terms of authorial skill.
To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.
After I put out my prior review, the author got in contact with me and thanked me for taking the time to write it. I will not let that message influence this review, but for the sake of being an honest review I have to mention that that contact occurred.
READER’S EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR
This book made me feel, at various points, upbeat and exhilarated, and at other points frustrated and worried. Overall I was pleased with the experience.
Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (B)
CONCEPT AND EXECUTION
This is book 2 in a series, and it feels like book 2 in a series. By that I mean that this book does not stand in any way on it’s own. The main plot of this book (revenge on Odili) is a continuation of the main plot of book 1. This inheriting of the main plot of the prior book is not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it a good thing. However, my personal preference is for each book to mostly stand on it’s own.
This book’s concept is: “Tau and Tsiora must unite a fractured kingdom from a civil war within, and a war of aggression from without. Meanwhile their greatest weapon in this war- Tau’s underworld training style- is causing rents in the fabric of reality which allow demons to become real and attack people. They have to choose between bad and worse, in order to get revenge and save their nation.”
The book’s execution upon this concept was good, but not great.
I’ll start with what I enjoyed: I feel as though the author leveled up prose-wise. He has some good turns-of-phrase in this one which consistently impressed me. Second, the final act was action packed, and also filled with drama and emotion. I felt compelled the read it really fast. Finally, I liked how Tau still hasn’t gotten over Zuri’s death at the end of the prior book.
Here’s what I didn’t like: there were a lot of ‘talking’ scenes, which were filled with exposition. For me, the first half of Act 2 was very slowly paced because of this exposition. Second, the ‘civil war’ was lame. There was precisely 1 battle between the two armies. It was a very good battle, but it wasn’t enough. I wanted more skirmishes, raids and the like. Third, there were too many fights against demons in the underworld. I wish the author took away some of these underworld demon fights, and made them fights against the Xiddeen or Odili’s rebels. The human enemies were more interesting than the demons.
Overall, I give the story’s Concept and Execution a rating of: (C)
CHARACTERS AND CHARACTERIZATION:
There is some good characterization in this book: I liked the dynamic between Tsiora having the hots for Tau, while Tau is still grieving Zuri and can’t reciprocate. I liked the chapter from Esi near the end of the book, because it felt very authentic. Jabari had some nice screen time. And I liked how Kana is now on the exact same revenge quest against Tau that Tau was against Odili.
However, I don’t feel like characterization is the author’s strong suit. For every character who I felt had memorable moments and arcs, there were two more who didn’t. For example, Hadith never really had an arc even though he was a primary character. Similarly, I never got a good handle on who Auset and Ramia were supposed to be. I could keep going, but you get the idea.
Part of the problem I had with this was the author’s devotion to sticking with Tau as the Point of View character for 95% of the book. When the author did break away and make another the POV character (for example, Esi and Duma), those were some of the best chapters/subchapters in the book.
Now I’ll paraphrase some writing advice I heard from an interview with Jim Butcher: ‘When you write a scene, you should write it from the perspective of the character who suffers the most in that scene.’ The reason why the Esi and Duma chapters worked so well is because they suffered the most in their respective scenes. But because the author stuck with Tau 95% of the time, the smaller characters who suffered more didn’t get as much characterization that they needed to really thrive. Imagine if the scene where Tau killed Kana’s father was told from Kana’s perspective. That would have been a gripping scene.
Overall, I give the story’s Characterization a rating of: (C)
PACING AND STRUCTURE
This book followed the 3 Act Structure. Let’s break it down.
Act 1: The Status Quo, and Why It Changes
- ‘The status quo’ stage of this novel is the state of unreconciled civil war left in the wake of book 1. Esi and Odili are rebelling; the Xiddeen are retreating, but planning on returning; Tau sees demons everywhere.
- In most stories, Act 1 usually ends because of the inciting incident. The status quo is upset by the inciting incident.
- In this book, the status quo is forced to change because… the plot. This book has no, true ‘inciting incident.’ Like I said, this is very much book 2 in a series, so the plot of this book doesn’t need an inciting incident to get the plot in motion. Instead…
- Here’s how ‘the status quo’ is broken. Odili is using his political acumen to court Tsiora’s allies away from her, so Tau kills the traitors; Tsiora sends Tau to kill the Xiddeen warlord; and Tau is attacked by a demon in the real world. All three of these plot points are continuations of plot points in the prior book. Ergo, no inciting incident.
Act 2: Conflict and a State of Flux
In this act of the book, here’s how the three main plot-lines develop:
- The act begins with Esi and Odili taking away Tsiora’s supporters, but ends with Tsiora and Tau travelling around the countryside bringing her supporters to heel.
- The act begins with the Xiddeen retreating, but it ends with a raid upon Kerem in an attempt by Kana to re-unify the Xiddeen against them.
- The act begins with a demon attacking Tau, and no one believes Tau. It ends with a demon attacking Tau AND Tsiora, and now people believe Tau. (And also Tau trains up some underworld warriors.)
Act 3: Climax and Resolution
- The act begins with Esi and Odili launching a surprise attack against the heroes, and ends with Esi and Odili both dead.
- The act begins with the Xiddeen having successfully launched a raid upon Kerem, and ends with Kana re-unifying the Xiddeen army and launching a final, desperate attack upon the Omehi.
- The act begins with a demon attacking Tau and Tsiora, reaches a climax with Tau failing to fight a demon-lord who wields a twisted sword in the underworld, and ends with one final physical battle at the very end.
This was a fine structure to use. The 3 Act Format is a very basic format, but basic doesn’t mean bad. The author pulled it off very well.
As for pacing… I had problems with this one. Acts 1 and 3 were action packed and I loved reading them. Act 2 let me down.
Now I’ll say that Act 2 had a lot of good aspects. Like I said, I enjoyed the Duma chapter. I also enjoyed the battle against the rebellious local mayor and her three sons. I liked the sub-chapter where Tau’s family died, and the chapter where the author mixed retelling folklore with travelling around earning the loyalty of the local Nobles. And finally, the author did a good job of foreshadowing Act 3 with Act 2.
But for every Act 2 subchapter which I liked, there were two subchapters which I felt dragged things down. Every Act 2 chapter contained a thrilling sub-chapter of combat, but the other three or four sub-chapters in that chapter were made dull because of exposition. And also, a lot of the combat was repetitive. The heroes would travel to the underworld and fight demons again and again, subchapter after subchapter, chapter after chapter.
I got bored. It got so bad that towards the end of act 2 I was tempted to give this book 2 stars. Thankfully acts 1 and 3 were strong.
Overall, I give the story’s Pacing and Structure: (B-)
PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION
I enjoyed the plot, but like I said this book’s plot is very much so an extension of the plot of the prior book’s plot. If you like the plot of book 1, you’re getting the natural extension of that in this book.
My biggest problem is that the author tried to balance three antagonists (the demons, Odili’s civil war, and the Xiddeen), HOWEVER the novel’s combat revolved largely around demons. This book’s most compelling fights are against the human opponents, at least in my opinion. This book was supposed to be the book where the author resolved the Odili plot-arc for this series; however, as his army was defeated in only one battle, the Odili arc felt undeveloped.
Stakes: The book’s stakes were naturally high after the events of the first book, and they escalated still further. Now Tau is personally responsible for the future of his nation, instead of just being one soldier out of many. Good stakes.
Tension: I enjoyed the tension, with one caveat. The conceit of randomly appearing demons worked well to keep the tension hot, because you never know when the next one will show up.
The caveat is the same one I had after the first book: the characters shrug off wounds like no one’s business. Early in this story Tau is poisoned and has a chunk carved out of his leg. Later in the story, he loses a lot of blood. Despite these debilitating injuries, Tau is able to fight better than anyone ever. I personally have donated blood several dozen times, and afterwards I feel lightheaded for several days afterwards. After losing so much blood, Tau should not be able to keep fighting like this. This broke my suspension of disbelief, just like it broke my suspension in the first book.
Overall, I give the story’s Plot: (B+)
AUTHORIAL VOICE (TONE, PROSE AND THEME)
I feel as though the author leveled up prose-wise. He has some good turns-of-phrase in this one which consistently impressed me. His prose wasn’t drop-dead beautiful a la McKillip, or Rothfuss or Kay. Instead, his prose was unobtrusive-yet-sleek. I think after another couple books he’ll be an author I read for the quality prose.
The book’s theme of the cycles of vengeance and tribes fighting over limited resources is even more well implemented in this novel than it was in the first novel. I enjoyed the revelation that the Nobles are a different tribe than the rest of the Omehi, because it further emphasizes this theme of tribal warfare.
I give the Authorial Voice: (B+)
SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY
I enjoyed the setting and worldbuilding in this book just as much as I did in book 1. I wish we got a little more new lore this time, but we didn’t.
I give the Setting: (B)
As an aspiring author myself, I try to learn lessons from every book I read.
- I really enjoyed the narrative style of chapter 8, where the author mixed telling about the history on Osonton while moving the main plot forward.
- When balancing antagonists, try to give them appropriate pagecounts. Odili was this book’s ‘final boss,’ but the majority of the individual fights in this book were against demons, not Odili’s Nobles.
- This book’s great final act really pulled the novel together. I didn’t expect all the twists and turns of the final battle, which was a great on the author’s part. Goes to show that a good final act leaves the reader with a good impression.
WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE?
- 16+. This is YA, but with adult overlap.
- People who want an African-style setting, or a Bronze-Age style setting.
- Swordfighting combat enthusiasts
This is a good book, and I recommend you read it. HOWEVER I recommend you read it close on the heels of reading the first book, because they are so closely linked. Just be warned you might need to push through the middle act.
Literary Rating: Good (On a scale of Perfect, Great, Good, Fun but Flawed, Not Recommended)
Enjoyment Rating: 3.8 OUT OF 5 STARS (Enjoyment means two things: how much fun did I have reading this book? And how much did this book make me think about real world issues/the human condition?)
Genres/Tagwords: African Fantasy, Fantasy, Epic, High fantasy, dragons, YA
- ‘Who Fears Death’ Book Review (Tribal violence)
- ‘Academ’s Fury’ Book Review (The Codex Alera books contain a good deal of sword combat and military strategy)
- ‘Sabriel’ by Garth Nix (Spirit-projecting your soul to a hostile underworld to combat demons)
Previous books by the author/in the series I’ve reviewed:
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