This ambitious but overwritten bit of Tolkien-inspired fiction is sure to frustrate even the most devoted fantasy enthusiast.
The best thing that can be said about Of Staves and Sigmas is that it resembles one of the most innovative fantasy titles ever conceived–Stephen Donaldson's The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. In that series, the surly, leprous antihero Thomas is thrust into an alternate universe simply called "the Land," where his earthly impairments are reconfigured as strengths. Verdegast’s hero, like Thomas, is disabled in this world, a schizophrenic whose episodes reduce him to violence and send him through walls, sometimes literally. James Wagner must endure batteries of tests and the scrutiny of doctors flabbergasted by his remarkable state. However, James later learns that his condition is preparation for a journey to Ergos, a brutal realm filled with gladiators, slaves, beasts and monsters where James must fight for his freedom. The plot is compelling enough, and the author has clearly spent time and effort constructing a unique fictional world. But plot is not the problem–that would be the writing. Or more precisely, the overwriting. Verdegast’s prose is an overgrown thicket of thesaurus-busters sure to tire even the most ambitious reader. Take, as one example, this passage: "The next few hours loped by discourteously, a percipience born not only of the angst and haste of their preparative scrambling-about, but of Time’s own unchivalrous penchant for oppugnancy whenever some mortal sought to bend it toward his own convenience." Verdegast reports that the book comes in at just over 270,000 words, and sentences like these suggest that he would do well to cut perhaps half of them. In creating a compelling new world, a fantasy author must not send readers running to the dictionary with every other word.
Despite a worthy plot, a nearly impenetrable, wordy fantasy.