Posts Tagged: davis

Fantasy review: ‘The Living Throne’ by H Anthe Davis

August 16, 2015 Review 0

This is the third book in the War of Memory series. I’ve already raved at extended length about the awesomeness of these books, so I won’t repeat all that. Suffice it say that if you like your epic fantasy with industrial-strength world-building, compelling characters, a plot that stretches itself over a whole continent and a vivid writing style with just a hint of horror, you should give this a try. Start with The Light of Kerrindryr.

So how does this book stack up against the first two? Surely by now the tale must be hitting mid-series sag and getting bogged down in plot sprawl or weighed down with its own history? It’s true that there are two large books’ worth of the story so far, and a huge array of characters to keep up with. I’ve said before that this is a series that would justify its own wiki, and it would have been useful to be able to look things up from time to time. However, there is a list of characters and a glossary at the back of the book, so that helped.

Fortunately, the author cleverly manages to revise the previous events while still moving things forward. There were a few moments when I couldn’t quite remember the fine detail of some earlier plot point, but only once where I just couldn’t remember anything at all about a character and his previous interactions with our heroes. So although it worried me going in that I wouldn’t be able to remember anything, it really wasn’t too much of a problem.

However, the breadth and depth of the world-building means that there’s an enormous amount of background information: about the world itself, the various flora, fauna and races, the history, geography and ecology of the continent. In the first two books, almost all of this stayed in the background, dribbled out in tiny amounts as and when needed. In this book, there were several places where the action stopped so that the main character (Cob) could be informed of some important piece of history. For the first time, I wondered if the sheer weight of backstory would topple over and squash the plot. And the device of having the Guardians withhold information, just because? That’s really got old. Cob gets mad with them for it, and so do I.

So let’s talk about Cob. He’s the archetypal teenage boy thrust into a position of power, but unlike many such stories, Cob doesn’t really grow into his powers and become a wise and just leader. He gets mad at everyone, even his closest allies, and lashes out when he shouldn’t. And he makes mistakes. This makes him human, and therefore very believable. There has been progress in the growing-up department, but he’s still a long way from wise and just leaderdom. Which is good, because that would be dull.

Of the (many) other main characters, some of them are likeable and some are intriguing and all of them are multi-faceted and compelling. There were one or two that I guess were necessary for plot reasons, but I didn’t find them desperately interesting (Weshker, for instance, or Geraad). Even so, I never got to (say) a Weshker section, and thought ‘Oh, no! Not him again’ as I did for some Game of Thrones characters (Catelyn, I’m looking at you here). And even if I had, one Enkhaelen, complex to the nth degree, would compensate for twenty Weshkers.

The plot in this installment is flimsily constructed around one of those zero-chance-of-success missions, where you know everything is going to go wrong along the way, in spades. And it does, of course, but the ways in which it went wrong still took me by surprise, with plenty of dramatic encounters, some tense episodes amongst Cob’s pals, and a few heart-wrenching moments. And there are revelations along the way that blew my socks off. I thought we’d pretty much got to the root of the main characters, but nope, not even close.

And then the ending. This is epic fantasy in every sense of the word, so the ending was suitably epic as well, with starring roles for every one of the (many) point of view characters. This did mean that the dramatic denouement went on and on and on, with three steps forward and two back. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of grandiose action, but for those who are, this is a perfectly executed example. And, just when you think it’s all over, the setup for the next book in the sequence, and what a setup it is! Awesome.

Another excellent book in the series. Beautifully constructed and written, with a complex plot and compelling characters, emotional depth, and some jaw-dropping revelations – five stars.


Archive review: ‘Ravenmarked’ by Amy Rose Davis

April 18, 2015 Archive, Review 0

I first read and reviewed this in 2012, and it was one of the first I’d come across that successfully married epic fantasy with a credible romance, that wasn’t just bolted on as an afterthought, or where the female was more than the Arwen-reward for the Aragorn-hero. I enjoyed this so much that I waited impatiently for book 2 to arrive. And waited… Seemingly, real life got in the way, and the book was unpublished for a while. But the author is now working on the sequel again, so one day I shall find out how it all ends. Even without the rest of the series, it’s a great read.

I’ve been enjoying the author’s articles for Fantasy Faction for some time now [Edit: they’re probably still in the archives there], but never thought to check her own website. Lo and behold, here’s the first part of a traditional-style epic fantasy. I had a look at the sample, and just kept on reading. To me, this kind of story is like coming home after a horrendous long-haul flight, or falling into your own bed after a week’s camping, it just wraps itself around you like a warm duvet. There’s a strong warrior with a secret, an innocent long-lost heiress to the throne, a prophecy, a rebellious princess, a usurper with a conscience and lots of magic, and although this sounds terribly clichéd, Davis gives it all a fresh feel and a bit of romantic fairy dust.

Like most multi-book fantasies, the opening chapters feature a deluge of names and places and incomprehensible references, but things soon settle down and there are numerous excuses for explanations along the way, so that details are revealed in small, natural doses rather than in dry info-dumps. The world-building is terrific: the various cultures, the different forms of magic, the religious practitioners and the history of their interactions going back a thousand years, at least, have all been carefully thought out, together with the resultant complications and consequences. And it all feels completely and utterly real. I love the various symbolic tattoos of the tribal people, for instance, and there are tiny details, such as the fact that Connor’s lover at the start of the book signals her rank with rows of gold rings on her ears.

Sadly, the background is the default off-the-shelf pseudo-medieval fantasy world, with all the usual paraphernalia. I don’t object to the castles, dukes, and monarchy (there has to be some political system, and it’s as good as any other), and low-tech necessarily leads to swords and bows and daggers, but it’s just a pity to fall back on the tired themes of slavery, the neglected poor, mistreated whores, riotous taverns and so forth. And ho, hum, the heroine on the brink of being raped… I might have seen that scenario once or twice before.

There are four main characters. Connor is the rather roguish warrior, who makes a casual if profitable living as a hired sword protecting travellers. Mairead is the rightful heiress to the throne, an innocent who has led a sheltered life in a religious order. Braedan is the usurper of the throne, who is being manipulated but still hopes to be a benevolent king. Igraine is the feisty daughter of a foreign king, who wants a proper job, not a husband and babies. Then there are a few other characters who get their own point of view at times when there’s none of the main characters around. None of these are outstandingly original types, but the author makes them very believable and likeable (even Braedan, who ought to be the villain). And there’s just that touch of romance fizzing below the surface right from the start. I’m not mad keen on too much love interest in fantasy as a rule, because the afflicted characters are sometimes inclined to stupidity on account of it, but here there are only occasional outbreaks of plot-driven stupidity, and the two pairings are actually great fun – both the verbal sparring of one pair, and the sexual tension of the other.

Some minor grumbles. Braedan has overturned a thousand-year regency and declared himself king, yet he’s swanning around court as if he has every right to be there and no one seems to be objecting very much. Why no major rebellions in the land? The names – OK, they’re vaguely Celtic, but it’s kind of a mish-mash of influences (Sean Mac Rian, Igraine, Bronwyn – sort of Irish and Welsh with a bit of King Arthur thrown in). And the dialects – the ‘dinna ye’ stuff, is kind of Scottish, but every time Igraine said ‘lass’ or ‘lad’, I heard it in broad Yorkshire, so I half expected her to say ‘ee bah gum, trouble a’t mill’. But maybe that’s just me. As for the romance – there are just a tad too many meaningful glances and tingling touches and weak-kneed moments for my liking, and a lot of should-we, shouldn’t-we angsting. And everyone’s so beautiful. And terribly noble and restrained and self-sacrificing and implausibly chaste. Not that I object to these ideals in principle, you understand, but some of the characters are quite astonishingly virtuous.

The good points. When people are hurt, they bleed, they bruise, bones get broken, and it takes time to heal. It isn’t always the bloke who saves the woman, sometimes she does the saving (hurray!). In fact, this is one of those rare books where the female characters really are strong, independent people, acting on their own initiative, not just there as love interest and motivation for the blokes. They can be just as handy with the weaponry or magic, too. I liked, too, that minor characters along the way are generally helpful and decent; so much fantasy these days seems to have a default position that everyone is irredeemably evil, just because.

I rather liked the various magic systems and the different races with their different powers. It seems at first sight like a bit of a muddle, but it’s been very carefully thought through and everything seems to work nicely. Of course, it suffers from the usual problem with magic – sometimes it’s just a get-out-of-jail-free card. A character gets into a mess and lo, there’s a magical thingummy to hand or a magic-imbued creature appears from nowhere. And unlimited healing power is a bit of a fudge (although to be fair, it doesn’t always work, which is rather cool).

The ending is a nice page-turning climax to events, with a bit of a battle, some neat twists and turns, and some very satisfactory resolutions while also setting things up beautifully for the next book. This was a totally enjoyable reading experience, pure pleasure, and the few minor niggles never affected that, although the romance level probably makes it one for the ladies. Very much looking forward to the next episode. Four stars.