I really liked the opening of this one - a dramatic wizardy end-of-the-world type battle, which turns out to be - well, something else (not wanting to spoil the surprise). An elegant way to introduce the main characters and the backstory in one go.
The plot is not the most original ever for a fantasy novel. There's a King. Check. Beautiful Warrior Babe. Check. Wizards. Check. Farm boy with unsuspected magical powers. Check. [OK, so he's a geeky software developer, same deal.] Magic Sword. Check. The Dark Lord. Check. [Didn't he get defeated before? Once or twice?] Well, nothing wrong with the familiar tropes, if the author adds a new twist. This one has a mystery (what happened to the software guy's father), and some nice humour wrapped round the cross-universe culture clash. The warrior babe assumes modern world people are peasants because they have no swords. Well, you would, wouldn't you? And Seth (geeky software guy) is astonished by simple fire-lighting magic, and horrified at being asked to use a sword: "Do I look like the kind of person that can handle a sword?"
This is all good knockabout stuff, no problem there. And I like that Seth isn't just spirited away to the alternate universe in the middle of the night, to be returned later (presumably) with no one any the wiser. Instead it all happens in the middle of a busy intersection, with a mega pile-up going on, leaving behind a dead monster and lots of witnesses to swear they saw a knight in armour kill said monster with a sword and then walk into a big blue hole with an unconscious man and vanish. Great fun.
So far, so good. Unfortunately the writing isn't quite up to the promise of the opening. The characters are all rather stereotyped, with not much subtlety to them. There's a lot of heavy description of people and places, the point of view hops about confusingly, and we rarely get any sense of what the characters are feeling, although Seth's sense of disorientation is clear. Sometimes the tension in a dramatic scene is dissipated instantly by a particularly clunky line. After a wizard meets a vividly gruesome end, we get only: "The remaining five council members suffered a similar fate..." There are quite a few typos, too, like 'isle' instead of 'aisle', 'peal' instead of 'peel' and the inevitable 'peaked' instead of 'piqued'. I can ignore the over frequent use of 'shall', which is probably intended to sound archaic, and the lack of 'had' (as in 'Some healers arrived already and...') which is an Americanism, I think, but the use of 'that' instead of 'who' really grated (as in '...children that ran about'). My pedantic school teachers would never have allowed it. Nitpicks, maybe, but if you notice them they really interfere with the suspension of disbelief.
The story jumps backwards and forwards between the two worlds, which works rather well. However, the modern world investigation into the incident soon turns up DNA differences between Malia (the Warrior Babe) and regular humans, and Seth is even more different. The military immediately jump to the weapons potential. This makes the whole magic business no more than a matter of chromosomes, and somehow it all becomes far more mundane. I don't mind magic that has a system or rules of some kind, but when there's an actual sciencey-type explanation for it, it loses its - well, its magic. As for the need for words to make magic happen, that's fine, it's a bit of a tradition, but I've always thought that in a wizard battle, you'd really want to choose the spells with the fewest words. Or else talk really, really fast. Apart from that, the magic system is nicely thought out, and I like the way a defended spell turns itself against the caster, with dire consequences.
Just as I thought things were straying into military scifi territory, the campy Cedric and the Man in Black turn up and the plot really cranks into high gear. After that, it's a matter of hanging on tight as things roller-coaster to the end. If you like wizardy thunderbolt battles and armies of weird creatures and the whole farmboy turned hero scenario, not to mention some interference from the gods, this book is for you. There's nothing wildly original in any of this, but if you can ignore the rather flat and heavy writing style, and you don't expect too much depth, it's an entertaining romp. I'm not sure what age group the author is aiming for but there are some wonderfully gruesome moments that would appeal to a certain type of child: "His eyes exploded out as his brain superheated in his skull, and then he fell to the ground, smoke rising from his empty eye sockets." Eew, gross. Ultimately, although I kept reading to find out how it ends, and it had some very enjoyable moments and a couple of nice twists at the end, it turned out to be not really my thing, sadly, [*] so combined with the weaknesses in writing, that keeps it at two stars.
EDIT: [*] It occurs to me that it's unhelpful and sounds a bit arbitrary to say that a book is "not really my thing" without explaining why, so I'm going to elaborate, which strays into spoiler territory.
This book follows a tried and trusted formula: an ordinary young man discovers that he has unexpected powers, and the story details how he comes to terms with that and learns to control and use his abilities. Nothing wrong with any of that, and the early part of the book (the discovery phase, as it were) and the middle section (the control phase) are not bad at all. Seth's tentative exploration of his powers is nicely done, and the tension is maintained because the reader never quite knows what he can do, any more than he does himself.
There's a very enjoyable piece where Seth, Malia and Cedric are chased through the swamp and end up in the mountain cave. Seth is manipulated into facing, alone, some entirely unknown situation, without any certainty that he will be able to deal with it. The other two are trapped by a horde of furry beasties with big teeth. However handy she is with a sword, Malia will not be able to kill or hold off all of them, and Cedric - well, Cedric is a mystery. Who knows what he is capable of, or what he's up to? There's real tension in the situation - not because anyone is likely to die at this point, but because, even though we know they will escape, we have no idea at all how that will be achieved. And although the friendly dragon is a bit of a 'get out of jail free' card, it's still a nice move. Dragons are always cool.
So at this point, things are heading for three stars, no problem. But then we get to the final showdown. Things are desperate, there's a big battle looming which Our Heroes believe they can't possibly win. The situation is so dire that the king has killed himself. So what does the city do? It holds a ball, that's what. Now I get that the author wanted the big romantic moment when the warrior babe puts on a frock and sweeps Our Hero off his feet. But really, on the eve of a huge, civilisation-ending battle? When the king has just died? I don't think so. The warrior babe, if she were sensible, would be sharpening her sword, and so would everyone else. So that's point one: if you want me to believe the stakes are that high, don't have the main characters swanning round on the dancefloor, it completely destroys my suspension of disbelief. Although the ending up in bed part - that's a perfectly believable response to imminent death, actually.
And then there's the final showdown. Now, over the course of the book, Seth has gradually learned just how awesome his powers are, and he's learned to use them, so it's not unexpected that he's the guy to save the world. But when it comes to a duel of awesome wizard powers, two people with essentially god-like abilities hurling thunderbolts at each other - well, that's just not interesting to me. And the actual gods get involved, too, which takes it even more out of the realm of credibility. And frankly, I never for a moment thought that Seth would fail or be killed, so there was no real tension there. So that's point two: I prefer my magic to be subtle, with clear limitations, not this 'anything you can do, I can do better' business. It's over the top and, again, it destroys my suspension of disbelief. Although extra brownie points for needing three people to kill the Big Bad (not sure why it needed three, but it was way better than Seth the Superhero doing everything). So ultimately the ending was too unbelievable for me.