Friday, September 16, 2011
Book Review: Servant of a Dark God
The novel’s events take place in a world where the use of magic is strictly controlled by powerful magic wielders know as Divines. A rebel group, the Order, is secretly growing their organization in the hope they will one day overthrow the Divines. When one of the rebels is exposed, Talen, a young farm boy, finds himself caught in the middle of the ensuing conflict.
The novel does not have a single protagonist, nor does it have a single point of view. The main character is Talen, the son of a prosperous farmer. He is a well-written, but sometimes irritating character who steadfastly stays true to his beliefs. I didn’t always like his thoughts or actions, but they were realistic and believable actions for him to take. The reader also spends a good bit of the book in other characters’ POV’s--for most part those of Talen’s friends and family. I will not go through all of them, but will simply say that they were distinct characters with their own interesting story lines. One of my favorite POV’s was that of Hunger, a dreadful, powerful monster.
Good world building is extremely important for me as a reader. Without it I cannot build the willing suspension of disbelief required to become fully engaged in the novel. Having said that, John Brown has done an fabulous job at world building. The magic system is unique and interesting. There are no fireballs or spells of invisibility, instead magic-capable people steal Fire and Soul from others in an effort to multiply their own strength and longevity. The world building also includes a very realistic conflict between foreign overlords and the oppressed locals they have conquered. The cultures are creative and believable, with their own rules and rites. I’m also pleased by the fact that Brown knows his weapons and armor (as well as the tools of everyday living). Nobody tries to “load” a bow (is that longbow magazine fed, or bolt action?) and they draw their bows with a thumb-ring. Small details like these, well-placed, enhance the realism of Servants of a Dark God.
Engagement/Willing suspension of disbelief:
For most of the novel I was completely engaged in the story. The process of discovery and the ever-growing threat to the protagonists had me reading the novel as fast as I could. As the novel reached its climax there were two elements that pulled me out of the story. One was the non-stop series of disasters that befell the protagonists. It was relentlessly grim--to the point I believed only a miracle could save the day. The problem is, miracles are really unbelievable. I want the protagonists to save the day. The story got to the point where I didn’t believe they could realistically do it. This left me expecting an unrealistic ending and not fully engaged. The other aspect that pulled me out was the incredible power some of the magic wielding humans and creatures possessed. Anyone on the next “level” above you in the hierarchy of magical power was completely out of your league. You had absolutely no hope of defeating them.
These were not major flaws in the novel, but they did create some space between me and the story. They certainly did not slow the pace of my reading. I had the novel in my hands every moment I could spare.
Despite the small complaints, I highly recommend this book. It was a great adventure in a wonderfully realized world. The richly textured world and unique magic system are still with me days after finishing the novel. I look forward to what the author will bring us in his next novel.
Posted by Matt Heppe at 9:41 PM