My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I had this on my kindle for a while, but after being a bit disappointed by a couple of other free/cheap fantasy reads, was nervous of what to expect with this. It turned out that I was pleasantly surprised! This is a fun fantasy romp with plenty of action and a fair nod in the direction of deeper characterisation. There are also some decent comedy moments too.
The story of a boy who’s down on his luck, takes a chance and discovers that he’s bitten off more than he can chew is not particularly original, but I don’t think it’s an issue here – it certainly doesn’t feel like Edward Robertson is lazily using old tropes. In fact, I’d say the world building here is one of the strengths of the story – not just a world, but a credible religious framework of multiple faiths that comes across as believable and measured.
You don’t get the clumsy “my god is good so yours must be bad” dichotomy that marred series such as The Belgariad. There’s a definite sense of testing the waters – the main characters are allowed to ask questions about their faiths and those questions aren’t glibly answered in the next page. In fact, they’re almost deliberately ambiguous.
Most of the characters are likeable and detailed enough to get a real sense of them. Each has a fairly distinctive voice and the supporting cast are solid enough not to feel like props to the main storyline. The relationship between the two main characters is quite sensitively drawn – I liked the way the balance of power swung between them throughout the book.
There are a couple of things I wasn’t so keen on – if this is the author’s first book then they should be fairly fixable as they go on. One thing that did jar with me was that the dialogue was slightly uneven. You’d be going through a section that sounded quite universal/timeless and then one of the protagonists would come out with something that sounded very much like a modern teenager. It’s not disastrous, but it does remind you that you’re reading someone else’s words and takes you out of the world that Robertson has spent so much time and attention building. I also wonder if it might date the book badly in 15-20 years time.
The other thing I was a little disappointed by was the lack of characterisation of the main enemy of the book. After all the other characters were so well drawn, she just seemed quite flat in comparison, and I was still left wondering what her motivation was after the denouement. I didn’t get a strong sense of who she was, she just didn’t come alive on the page for me so I didn’t really feel strongly for her.
Overall though, this is a pretty good read. Definitely worth whiling away a few hours on. And it’s one of a series too, so if you like this, there is plenty more to get your teeth into.
Who should read this:
I’d say it’s more suitable for the younger end of the fantasy market (possibly even sliding into YA) due to the age of the main characters, but there’s still plenty to keep more seasoned fantasy aficianados interested. This would also be an ideal book for boys who are reluctant readers, as it has quite a ‘boys vs the world’ feel which I think would appeal to that group.