Monday, January 25, 2016

Reader's Review: "Merchant of Alyss" by Thomas Locke

Synopsis from Amazon:
Life for Hyam is bittersweet. Admired by the citizens of Falmouth for his heroic rescue mission, he cherishes these peaceful days with Joelle by his side. Yet grief over the loss of his magical skills during the great Battle of Emporis threatens to engulf him. Sometimes he even wishes he had never known magic at all.

When Hyam comes into possession of an ancient Milantian scroll, he is thrilled to feel the surge of power that courses through him whenever he touches it. But what he discerns in the text could mean war. He embarks upon another journey to determine its true meaning and forestall any attack. But as Hyam is seeking answers, he is unaware that the merchant of Alyss is seeking him . . .


A Bit of Preamble:
*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review.

Since I started reviewing books on my blog, I have generally reserved the featured reviews for indie reads, saving the "professional", mainstream-published books for the periodic Reading Lists, in general...

Then again, I haven't really received review copies of mainstream-published books to review before now.
So here is the trend-breaker, a book by a prolific and well-recognized author, Thomas Locke (aka Davis Bunn, for those who might be more familiar with that name). As it states above, I was part of the group lucky enough to receive the book in advance of the release, to read and review. Thus, without further ado, what follows is my review.

My Review:

Fantasy is without a doubt far and away my favorite genre for both reading and writing, and the prevailing reason is this: anything goes, so there is ample room for all kinds of creativity. Ergo, whenever I see a new kind of fantasy book in a new fantasy realm, I will, at the very least, take it off the shelf and explore the blurb.
Now, I am also a stickler for keeping things in chronological order, so the fact that this is a sequel to a book I have never read made it sort of difficult--but I believe that a good fantasy author will allow for just such a situation, and be able to effectively allude to the important bits established in the first book, to build upon them in the sequel and keep things moving forward. Aside from chronology, the other struggle is that I came to this book without having been immersed in the characters at all, and so I am meeting them after some cataclysmic event I am unaware of, and I don't have any context for names and relationships between them--yet again, a good fantasy author will also allow for this, and give readers a chance in the second book to fall in love with the characters, "all over again" for those who read the first book, and for the first time if (like me) one has not.
Unfortunately, this is where the story essentially "left me behind" from the very start. It began by setting up events for this book (somewhat) and progressed with only small allusions to the events of the previous book--but character connections were scarce and descriptions scarcer still, so that there were a couple characters with unfamiliar names that it took me a while to realize which gender they were intended to be! I felt like I should have been familiar with the characters first, because the events of this second book would have built upon that--they certainly didn't quite present a very strong first impression, anyway!
As far as the plot of the book, I felt like things really repeated in a cycle of wandering and talking and misunderstanding and reading scrolls for about twenty chapters before anything of true import actually began to happen. Fortunately, it took me to that point to get well enough acquainted with these new characters, so I guess if they had been cast into peril any earlier, it would have totally thrown me off--or it might have drawn me in that much faster. Nothing like a solid crisis to really get to know a character!

I was definitely fascinated by the unique aspects of the world. Generic high fantasy tropes abounded for sure--but one does not mind the tropes of one's favorite genre! The concepts of magic, the debated existence of dragons (yes! I love it when there are dragons in a story!), the way it is wielded through glass globes, and most of all the varying locations featured in the novel--these were all things I absolutely loved, things that definitely tilted my inclination in favor of this book. I loved the concept of Olom and the golems, of the way the author describes a dragon speaking--strokes of fantasy brilliance, however brief that candle may have been. I also really enjoyed the way the story tied into the title--the character of the Merchant of Alyss was I think one of the best characters in the book.

However, the writing style failed to "grab" me. The author's penchant for emphasizing clauses and phrases with periods felt too much like reading one of my own rambling blog posts--it nearly detracted from the fantasy "mood" at times. The language could have been strong, forceful, as flowing as the magic it tried to describe--and yet it was simplified, cliched. The inclusion of the "Valiant-Yet-Futile Attempted Romantic Triangle" trope was both poorly timed and wholly unnecessary, while multiple opportunities to shore up the sprawling plot, to populate the world just as thoroughly as the descriptions might suggest, to create the inexorable pull on the imagination, and to set the baited hook squarely in the reader so that they cannot possibly rest until they find out what will happen to these figments they have come to recognize as friends--

All this was lost, left unexplored in favor of the developing story I may have just interrupted.

On the whole it was fairly decent--if only this had been a debut instead of the "latest new thing." That's probably what irked me most, is that this man has indeed been writing for years, and yet the style of this story and treatment of the genre didn't quite reflect that. I would give "Merchant of Alyss" a ****FOUR STAR**** rating: the dialogue, the concept, the conflict/resolution were all very good, and plus one star because I realize I haven't read the first novel, Emissary. (I've linked it here, in case anybody is intrigued and wants to check it out!) Also, because it is clean and wholesome fiction, I will add an Upstream Writer Certified Recommended rating as well. For high-fantasy lovers who wish that more inventive books like Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia existed--wish granted! The "Tales of the Realm" series certainly promises to answer an avid reader's hankering for all things magical and adventurous!