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Pauline's Fantasy Reviews

Reviews of fantasy books, plus some mystery, sci-fi and literary works, and my random thoughts on book-related matters.

Currently reading

Dragon Queen (The Memory of Flames, #5)
Stephen Deas
The Splintered Eye (The War of Memory Cycle #2)
H. Anthe Davis, Erica Dakin

The Awakened (The Awakened, #1)

The Awakened (The Awakened, #1) - Jason Tesar This is the author's debut work, published in three parts (called Part One, Part Two and Part Three, and isn't that better than inventing meaningless titles?). These are all cheap downloads, and even better value as a combined volume, which is how I read it. This review covers Part One.
The opening is intriguing - an apparently present-day encounter with someone from another time (or world), and then we are plunged into a standard fantasy scenario, a ruling family is a great city, which is fragmented by events. The father disappears, the son is essentially kidnapped to train as a follower of the All Powerful god, and the mother is left to survive a number of difficulties back home. We follow several characters initially, but not all of them are there for the long haul, so it is a little hard to know who the story is really about. There are obviously some strange things going on, and the action scenes are dramatic and very tense - I particularly enjoyed Adair's race through the strange structure beyond the reef.
World building is fairly sketchy. Certain locations are described in almost too much detail (we don't need actual measurements of rooms, or how one room connects to another, unless it's relevant to the plot), but others are hardly touched on at all. There is very little sense of what the city of Bastul is like, for instance, apart from a vague sense of a warm-climate Romanesque lifestyle with dark-skinned slaves, while the people of the monastery are almond-eyed eastern types with a disciplined, austere lifestyle. There are also some primitive people, with bones through their noses. This is all sadly stereotyped.
If there is overt magic in this created world, it is not obvious, although there is clearly some strangeness - a crossover from the fantasy world to what appears to be our own world. There are also gods somewhere in the background. I rather like this kind of subtlety.
The characters are a little difficult to believe in, being rather too black and white, evil or nice (Lemus is particularly overdrawn). I felt they all needed some more backstory and depth, especially Maeryn, Adair and Lemus, and with Kael I was not even sure how old he was, an important detail. Having so little background makes characters' motivations hard to understand, so sometimes major things just seemed to happen without rhyme or reason. A little more subtlety and greyness in the characters would have improved the book immensely.
The prose is a little clunky at times, but there are few typos and only occasional grammatical errors. There is perhaps too much descriptive writing, and the dialogue fails to bring the characters fully to life, but it is all very easy to read, and the reader is never left wondering exactly what is going on (sometimes why, but never what). One minor annoyance: my Kindle version had every mention of Bastul and a few other places hyperlinked to the maps at the back. This is useful the first time, and after that is just distracting.
The pacing is good at first, with racy passages interspersed with more introspective sections. However, once Kael begins his training, the descriptions become a little too long and detailed, and could be over-slow for some readers. Things pick up again just before the end, with a slightly melodramatic cliff-hanger.
There are some seriously unconvincing plot contrivances. Adair, for instance, is the ruler of a major city, yet he decides to take off on a secret mission of his own. And why exactly was Bahari so important to him anyway? Why was the Council so quick to replace him? Then there was Maeryn and Lemus - I really found the legal position unbelievable (I can't think of any real-world equivalent), so that needed some elaboration, to say the least. Some more detail of Maeryn's feelings would have helped here. The subplot dealing with the rebels, in fact almost all of Maeryn's story, feels as if it is setup for events in the later books, and it just never seems to get going.
But having said all that, I found the story extremely readable - I just kept on turning the pages to find out what happened next, and that, after all, is what everyone looks for in a story. Only some minor quibbles over plot and characterisation hold this back from being a very good debut work. It is a good 3.5 star effort, so on the assumption that things will fall into place in the later books in the series, I will give this 4 stars. And so on to Book Two...