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Review: The Uncrowned King, Rowena Cory Daniells

7636552“Rolencia’s ancestry enemy, Merofynia, has invaded and marches on King Rolen’s castle. Powerless to help, thirteen yeard old Piro watches as her father, King Rolen, listens to poisoned whispers against Bryen. How could the King doubt his second son? Determined to prove his loyalty, Bryen races across the path of the advancing army to ask the Abbot to send the warriors monks in defence of the castle.”

One nice thing about reading a series back-to-back and reviewing fast is that I can refer to my last review of The King’s Bastard as if it was the first half of this one, just as the books themselves read like two parts of one whole. I’d much rather have seen these first two books as one complete volume, as to me that would have made much more sense. I understand the commercial need to serialise, it’s just..in an ideal world..

The ending of The King’s Bastard felt unnaturally chopped and incomplete, but picking up this one straight away and diving in right where the first book left off was really satisfying. I read that when these were originally published there was a 4 week gap in-between the books, and even just that short wait would have driven me absolutely batty.

If, like me, you enjoyed the first book you’ll enjoy this one just as much. It’s another healthy dose of the same fast-paced, character-driven, small-scale fantasy fun. All the same positives from the first book are present, and the negative of the constant repetition is there too, unfortunately. This repetition has something of a cumulative effect in terms of annoyance for me, it’s still heavily outweighed by the good stuff, but it just..rankles. Time and again we hear the characters expressing the same concerns, how glad Fyn is that Piro is safe at Rolenhold for example, or how concerned Byren is that by bringing the monks he proves himself loyal, or what a good job the healer did on him, how much he regrets comparing Orrade to Lence, and on and on. It just gets more and more noticeable. I’m not sure if the repetitions are there because Daniells genuinely worries that readers will forget what’s going on (really, we’re fine!) or whether they’re a word count bumper. A minor annoyance in book one continues and has grown into a major annoyance for me in book two.  Aside from characters constantly rehashing their concerns, there are also issues of the same phrasing being repeated, sometimes just in the following paragraph…”It was but the work of a moment” is one that springs to mind. And I’ve found myself repeating that one a few times at work today as it’s got into my head!

Repetitious niggles aside, I thoroughly enjoyed continuing my journey with Bryen and co. Piro grows stronger and more central as a character in The Uncrowned King, and although she still makes several daft choices she actually shows herself to be much wiser and calmer than her brothers, who endlessly run around getting everything wrong. The action gets very much like a soap opera in many places, and in fact I think that’s completely the appeal here. Is there a fantasy equivalent for the term ‘Space Opera’? because I think that’s the kind of term I’m struggling for here. Even though things seem a little farcical at times, you absolutely have to know what happens because you care about the characters. So you ‘tune in’, and whilst Fantasy purists may well feel that this isn’t the most ambitious or ground-breaking of series, there’s no denying that it’s engaging, addictive and a whole lot of fun. And there’s a massive amount of value in those qualities which can often be overlooked, IMHO.

I completely neglected to mention the awesomeness of the Affinity Beasts in the first book. In book two, it’s awesomeness plus plus, as we get to spend more time with the Ulfr pack, and meet some other unexpected delights of the animal kingdom along the way. If you like your magical beasties, you’ll have fun with this series.

The relationship between Bryen and Orrade is just starting to get interesting here, and I’m looking forward to seeing if/how that develops further. I’m also dying to find out Dunstany’s true motivation. I haven’t been this immediately hooked into a series in years, and I’ll be jumping straight into the third book tonight.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Review: The King’s Bastard, Rowena Cory Daniells

7660688“The Kingdom of Rolencia sleeps as rumours of new Affinity Seeps, places where the untamed power wells up. By royal decree all those afflicted with Affinity must serve the Abbey or face death. Sent to the Abbey, the King’s youngest son, Fyn, trains to become a warrior monk. Elsewhere others are tainted with Affinity and must fight to survive.

Political intrigue and magic combine in this explosive first book in an exciting new fantasy trilogy.”

Probably the first thing I should say about this book is that it kept me up stupidly late into the night, and on a work night at that. That in itself is always a sign of a really good read. I need to be in work for 7am, so if I’m still reading at 2, you know I’m onto a winner.

From some rummaging about on-line I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews of The King’s Bastard, and although personally I loved it, I can understand and sympathise with the naysayers to an extent. On the face of it, there’s not much that’s new or exciting here, the world is remarkably small and the cast of characters equally so, and there’s quite a large amount of repetition which can get irritating at times. The thing is though, for me, essentially none of this mattered because Daniells’ characters are so engaging that I flew through all six hundred pages of this like a madwoman.

Byren, the protagonist, is unfailingly likeable, as are Piro and Fyn, his younger siblings. They all have their flaws, but they have that purity of spirit that draws you to them and has you cheering them on and worrying for them when they make the wrong choices (which they do, a lot). They remind me a lot of the characters you’ll find in novels by David Gemmell or Trudi Canavan, characters you can genuinely take to your heart and care about. The cast here may be small, but they’re powerful in the way they pull on your emotions, and for me that’s always what keeps the pages turning.

I think in a way the same can be said of the World in which the novel takes place. No, it’s not massive or epic in scope, but it’s effective and interesting in its own right. Admittedly there’s nothing new in the ‘frozen world’ idea, but Daniells paints it beautifully, and in all fairness I can’t think off-hand of any other Fantasy novel I’ve read where speed skating is the most effective form of travel, I thought that was a really nice touch. Same goes for the Warlord controlled spurs off the island, another really nice touch that adds value and intrigue to the plot. Personally I’d much rather read a title like this, where the world and cast are small but perfectly put together, than read something ambitious and sprawling that lacks the attention to detail and perfect containment that Daniells offers. It reads like a labour of love, and that means a lot to me turning the pages on the other side.

Two of my favourite Fantasy themes are explored in The King’s Bastard. Firstly, and most importantly to the plot, the notion of Prophecy. Does Prophecy self-fulfill? I always love thinking around this idea and it’s one of my favourite time-wasters at work, so I always enjoy it when it’s the main theme woven around a plot. Again I was reminded of Gemmell here with the idea of a seer appearing and making a seemingly ridiculous prediction which the characters refute as madness, and then slowly encounter as they make more and more desperate attempts to avoid it. It may be nothing ground breaking, but it’s carefully written and very well done. Same again for the idea of a young female wanting to experience life with more freedom and power than her gender dictates, this is always a theme that’s close to my heart. Piro is a beautifully written character, it’s always so hard to try and define what makes a character work or not work, but Daniells makes it appear effortless. Piro engages much like George RR Martin’s Arya, instantly likeable and charming, and you’re on her side within seconds.

The villain of the story, Illien, is cunning, manipulative and powerful. It feels increasingly rare in fantasy to find a character with no redeeming qualities, but here we’ve got a real old fashioned bad guy, and he’s refreshing in his own way. I’m a big fan of that Old Skool Fantasy feel, so I really enjoyed this aspect but I do understand that it’s not necessarily going to be everybody’s cup of tea.

The end of the book would have been absolutely maddening if I didn’t have the follow-up immediately to hand. If you like everything tied up neatly at the end of book one you’re going to be disappointed here. It feels a bit artificially cut-off, and I have no idea how long the wait between books was but it would have been a nightmare! As is, it’s all good, but I definitely wouldn’t read it until you’ve got the second one ready.

In essence, I absolutely loved this, and am going to be delving straight into the second book. I should make it clear though that if you’re after the scope of Martin or the grit of Lawrence, this isn’t going to be for you. It may be a small scale novel in many ways, but it’s beautifully realised and I had no end of fun reading it. Daniells is a genuine story teller, this is one of those ‘curl up by the fire and lose yourself’ novels that’s a pure pleasure to read. If you enjoy the likes of David Gemmell, Trudi Canavan and Kirstin Cashore, or really if you just like your fantasy character-driven, fast-paced and fun, you should definitely give this one a go.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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