Spoilers Below. I’m writing this review in good faith, as one author reviewing another’s book, trying to balance positives with negatives.
This is a good book!
I set as a goal to read 50 self-pub books this year, and this is book #6.
WHAT IS THE TARGET AUDIENCE? WHAT GENRES? WHAT MAJOR TROPES?
- EPIC FANTASY… but on a small scale. The book is only 450 pages long.
- Extremely Political Fantasy
- Kickass Lady Protagonist
- Adult, but anyone 15+ can read and enjoy this safely
- Culture Clash Fantasy
- Oppressed Magic User
- Blood Magic
MY EMOTIONAL RESPONSE/ FUN FACTOR
This is a good book, and had the potential for greatness. It didn’t, for me at least, have any boring or ‘bad’ chapters. I had a few quibbles with this book, but overall this was a good and a fast read.
Overall, I give the story’s Emotional Resonance: (4/5 Stars)
Note: I weigh books so most are in the range of 2, 3 and 4 stars, and I consider 2, 3 and 4 star books as ‘Average’ quality.
To put this review/study in proper context, you must know my starting point.
I came into this after reading/watching a few very positive reviews. I enjoyed this book a good deal, even though in retrospect I’ve come to the conclusion that I wasn’t quite in this book’s target audience.
SIMILAR BOOKS/OTHER BOOKS IN THE SERIES
- ‘The Song of the Shattered Sands’ series is similar in terms of having a heavy politics vibe
CONCEPT AND EXECUTION
This book’s concept is split into three parts, one for each protagonist.
- Nasha is a social outcast amongst a tribal/caste based society. She’s cursed with being an empathic psychic. Using her curse/boon, she’s clawed her way to the top of society by trials of combat, but her aristocratic betters are constantly trying to kick her out. When she finally missteps very slightly, they attempt to kill her unjustly- resulting in her having no choice but to kill to defend herself. One thing leads to another, and to redeem herself, she has to go on an adventure.
- Adrian is a prince of a kingdom, long in his brother’s shadow. After both his brother and wife’s deaths, he attempts to prove himself equal to his dead brother and to avenge his wife. What follows is him scrambling from one crisis to the next, holding onto the reigns of a tiger for fear of falling off.
- Lynn is a fallen paladin type, who’s haunted by PTSD ghosts of her dead friends. She wants nothing more but to atone for her past by keeping her head down and saving the lives of the innocent, however adventure finds her and she has no choice but to strike out at the same enemies who killed her dead friends. She must regain the faith of her peers- as well as faith in herself- if she’s to have any hope of success.
Overall, these concepts are well executed. I personally liked Lynn’s the most, followed by Nasha and Adrian, but all three are good. I did have some problems- which I’ll discuss later in the ‘Plot’ section- but overall, this story was well done mechanistically.
CHARACTERS, CHARACTERIZATION AND DIALOG
I liked Nasha’s character arc. She grew up thinking herself cursed, but over the course of her character arc she comes to realize that maybe her curse is more of a boon. After a lifetime of self-doubt, she begins to trust herself. This is solid, Hero’s Journey sort of business.
If I were to critique Nasha, I’d say we started with Nasha too late in her adventure. The book begins at a mid-point in her adventure- after her first Proving, after she kills people in that proving, after Ife’s death. The events of that Proving were so important, I feel like they should have occurred in this book.
We meet her after she’s become an official hunter, and a peer of the powerful Ronar clan. We see her at the very moment she breaks a taboo and kills allies. From that point forward, she’s shunned by the other Ronar and she’s forced to re-join the Slopers. I think we should have had one additional chapter before then, to show how Nasha as a Sloper-born Ronar conflicts with ‘purebred’ Ronar hunters, before that taboo break. The point is to show how Iallo and the rest treat Nasha in a vacuum, before she killed Chatta.
Adrian was a fun character, for all his blindspots. He’s lived his whole life in the shadow of his father and brother, that upon his brother’s death he’s forced to stand in the sun for the first time in his life. And he struggles. This struggling was a great conflict to read.
I had a problem with Adrian. His final adventure in Azure felt weird. He was the general of the army. Why did he abandon his army on the eve of battle to travel to a different continent? I understand the in-plot reasons (he had to get more troops from Azure), but out-plot it’s weird for the general to leave the army.
Lynn was my favorite character. She’s a schitzophrenic paladin. She has the voices of the dead whispering in her ears, but she doesn’t let that get her down. She goes out of her way to save lives. She was a really neat character.
PACING AND STRUCTURE
The book is fast paced, and it pulled me through all the way. Every single chapter is plot-important, and a lot of the chapters contain combat, making them a thrill to read.
Let’s break down the structures.
- The Death of Chatta, and the direct fallout of that.
- The Second Proving, culminating in Nasha gaining control of her psychic powers
- The Defense of the Ronar
These are the three main storybeats for Nasha. I think she was 3 Act Format.
- Political Scheming, in the aftermath of Myrra’s death
- Appointment to Light of the Legion, and searching the city for Madness.
- Pursuing the Madness, and pursuing Addo
- An Interlude in Azur
This seemed to be a 4 Acts, but I don’t think it uses the 4 act format. Instead, the first three acts are linked and use the 3 Act Format together, while act 4 is it’s own beast and stands on it’s own.
- Escaping the Prison, to search the city for the Madness
- Returning Home to the Sentinels, only to be rejected by the Sentinels
- Rallying the Troops, and finally welcomed by the Sentinels
Again, another 3 Act plot arc.
Overall, these structures worked well. Under the circumstances of a)this being a small book and b)this book having three plot arcs, using the 3 act format for each narrative was a good idea. Trying to do more complex plot formats in such a small pagecount/with so many arcs would would have loaded the book down with too much plot.
In short, this book was a lean, mean fighting machine, and the book’s structure is set up to that end.
PLOT, STAKES AND TENSION
Usually when I write a review, I complain that the book in question was too long and needed to have 100+ pages trimmed. I don’t say this very often, but ‘A Touch of Light’ needed to be longer. This book is Epic Fantasy, a genre known for chunky books. ‘AToL’ comes in at a trim 450 pages, with every chapter being plot filled and action packed. I found it to be a page-turner, drawing me fast from page 1 to page fin.
I personally feel this book had too much of it’s fat trimmed. I like books with a fair bit of worldbuilding. This book certainly had lots of really cool worldbuilding, but certain aspects of that worldbuilding could have been elaborated some. I feel like this book could have been well served to be 10 pages longer, if it used those 10 pages to explain aspects of it’s lore in greater detail.
This blink-and-you-miss-it worldbuilding styles is a GREAT storytelling style, if the author wants to write a concise story. I just personally prefer books which aren’t quite this concise.
Finally about the politics scheming and backstabbing in the story. I enjoyed them, but in retrospect I think I was absolutely clueless as to what was going on as I was reading the book. I think the politics in this book are the sort that they go completely over your head as you read them, and only really comprehend them upon a re-read when you have the full context. It works really well.
SETTING, WORLDBUILDING AND ORIGINALITY
This book is all about culture clash. Nasha is from a religion which values short, brutal lives, because death renews life. Life is meant to return to the soil, and be renewed. Lynn and Adrian are from a religion which values long lives, immortality and eternity. And then we go deeper: Lynn is earnest in her worship of the Seraph, while Adrian might as well be atheist, instead valuing the pragmatic value of his blood. On that basis alone, the texture of the story has dramatic differences. I’m looking forward to future books, when these two cultures actually come to blows against one another.
The worldbuilding goes deeper. We have airships, poisons, strange madnesses which might or might not be the wrath of the gods.
Altogether, I enjoyed this worldbuilding. Going back to what I said above again, a good deal of the worldbuilding isn’t explained- you’re meant to read it, and go along with the inexplicable. Did the story ever explain exactly what ancestor stones were, or did I miss that as I read? Again, this storytelling practice isn’t wrong; it’s simply on the soft magic end of the soft magic/hard magic spectrum.
If I were to describe the prose, I’d say that it is fairly utilitarian. The authorial voice very rarely goes into detail about what people ate for breakfast, or the color of the clothing they wear, or the architectural style of buildings. You get the idea. The prose is more on the ‘Brandon Sanderson’ end of the ‘Brandon Sanderson’/’Patrick Rothfuss’ end of the spectrum.
As an author, I want to improve my own writing/editing skills. To that end, I like to learn lessons from every story I read. Here’s what I learned from this story:
- Play your worldbuilding close to the chest. This story did that very well.
- In short, there’s no need to explain everything which makes your setting unique. Explain the bare minimum through context clues, inferences and the like.
- When writing a political scheming story, write your politics so they make sense in retrospect.
- Write your book so new information can be taken away in a re-read, when you have greater context.
- For a spoilery example, in this book there is a disease of madness spreading. In the first read-through, it’s though to be spread by a magical cult. By the end of the book, it’s revealed that the madness is an alchemical poison spread by a neighboring nation seeking to dominate the continent by causing dissent in enemy nations.
- Reading this book the first time, I read the book at face value. The weird madness was magical in nature. When I read this book a second time, I’ll understand the madness is scientific in nature, and is the tool of conquest. The entire nature of the second-read-through is different due to this added knowledge.
Here’s a link to all the lessons I’ve previously learned.
Good book is good. Go read it!
Did you like this critique/review? Here are some more: The Rest of My In Depth Reviews
On a personal note, I’m open to editing books. I don’t like putting myself out here like this, but I’ve been told I should. Check my blog for details if interested.