THE DARK THAT DWELLS

Epic, Wagnerian space opera that perhaps might have benefited from a few more liner notes.

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In an SF–fantasy debut, adventurers, pirates, villains, hunters, and fugitives careen around a galaxy in search of powerful ancient artifacts.

Digman and Roddy, a husband-and-wife writing team, make their debut with a robust but complicated combination of science fiction and high fantasy, in which crumbling castles and dragons and wraiths share the stage with ray guns and spaceships. It takes place in the aftermath of a traumatic, galaxy-rending war between a pantheon of gods and entities of primordial evil called the Qur Noc. Now, rival space-going human kingdoms, uneasily at peace, scheme and skirmish using faster-than-light ships and “T-Gate” transport points—alien technology that mankind doesn’t even fully comprehend. However, these struggles merely provide background as potentially cosmos-shattering events happen in secret and on off-limits or outlaw worlds. Fall Arden, a freelance Ranger with a mystical sword and an automated quiver of multifunctional arrows, is one of several relentless characters taking part in a violent quest for ancient artifacts, which include a crystalline World Shard and a glyph that can tap into forbidden, ancient power. Another quester is Sidna, an “arcanist” or sorceress who’s one of a tribe of mages that defy the widespread, violent religion of Elcos. A Darth Vader–like Elcosian named Tieger, a fanatic in powered armor, serves aboard the fearsome dreadnaught Forge, and Ban Morgan is a soldier in one of the competing empires who took the blame for an atrocity committed by a prince in his squad and wants to redeem himself. There are also space pirates, a shape-shifting robot, an alien “voidstrider,” and other players. The various members of the ensemble cross paths, often violently, on doomed starships, in pocket universes, and in death-haunted temples.

Fantasy fans will easily recognize and savor the novel’s echoes of, tributes to, and occasional quotations from the Lord of the Rings series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the His Dark Materials books, H.P. Lovecraft’s works, TV’s Babylon 5, and, of course, all things George Lucas. However, the tale doesn’t feel as derivative as other contemporary SF–fantasy fare thanks to its narrative assurance, its ability to set up characters on a mythic scale, and its tendency to keep key details tantalizingly opaque. Hermes, a shape-shifting “artificial lifeform” of obscure origins who accompanies Fall, serves as a literal deus ex machina; he gets the protagonists out of seemingly hopeless jams, much as R2-D2 and Gandalf did in works that provided the novel’s inspiration. Some readers may wonder at the fact that major characters take incredible physical punishments and easily bounce back from grievous wounds while armies of ill-fated extras are summarily ripped asunder by bullets, blades, beams, or ravenous monsters. However, the action rarely stops, the mayhem is vividly rendered, and readers are treated to multiple plot twists and cliffhangers over the course of the book. Readers should be prepared to memorize a lot of names and Dungeons & Dragons–style esoterica, though; judging from closing pages, there may well be a sequel.

Epic, Wagnerian space opera that perhaps might have benefited from a few more liner notes.

Pub Date: July 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73426-142-4

Page Count: 519

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2020

IRON FLAME

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 2

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

A young Navarrian woman faces even greater challenges in her second year at dragon-riding school.

Violet Sorrengail did all the normal things one would do as a first-year student at Basgiath War College: made new friends, fell in love, and survived multiple assassination attempts. She was also the first rider to ever bond with two dragons: Tairn, a powerful black dragon with a distinguished battle history, and Andarna, a baby dragon too young to carry a rider. At the end of Fourth Wing (2023), Violet and her lover, Xaden Riorson, discovered that Navarre is under attack from wyvern, evil two-legged dragons, and venin, soulless monsters that harvest energy from the ground. Navarrians had always been told that these were monsters of legend and myth, not real creatures dangerously close to breaking through Navarre’s wards and attacking civilian populations. In this overly long sequel, Violet, Xaden, and their dragons are determined to find a way to protect Navarre, despite the fact that the army and government hid the truth about these creatures. Due to the machinations of several traitorous instructors at Basgiath, Xaden and Violet are separated for most of the book—he’s stationed at a distant outpost, leaving her to handle the treacherous, cutthroat world of the war college on her own. Violet is repeatedly threatened by her new vice commandant, a brutal man who wants to silence her. Although Violet and her dragons continue to model extreme bravery, the novel feels repetitive and more than a little sloppy, leaving obvious questions about the world unanswered. The book is full of action and just as full of plot holes, including scenes that are illogical or disconnected from the main narrative. Secondary characters are ignored until a scene requires them to assist Violet or to be killed in the endless violence that plagues their school.

Unrelenting, and not in a good way.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374172

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2024

FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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