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Thursday, March 19, 2009

“Hammer of God” by Karen Miller (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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Since the publication of the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology, Karen Miller has quickly become one of the more popular fantasy novelists within the past couple of years. “Hammer of God”, released in early January, completes Miller’s second series known as the Godspeaker Trilogy.

The Godspeaker Trilogy is a religious/political court fantasy series set within the fictional worlds of Mijak and Ethrea. “Hammer of God” picks up right where “The Riven Kingdom” leaves off. Rhian, newly crowned as Ethrea's first female ruler, must face head on the dangers that are quickly threatening her kingdom. One of those threats is that of the country of Mijak. Mijak is a desert country thousands of miles away from Ethrea. Mijak’s army is being led by Empress Hekat who is on a warpath to conquer the world and offer her god blood sacrifices along the way. Marching with Hekat is her son Dmitrak who is in possession of a weapon known as the Hammer of God—a device that calls upon the gods’ powers and can quickly destroy anything in its path, even destroying whole cities with a blast of the fire beam. The Mijak army has overthrown Icthia, a port city that sits between Ethrea and the ocean, giving them just an ocean’s ride to starting war with Ethrea. However, something is preventing the Mijak army from setting sail as quickly as they would like.

Meanwhile, in Ethrea, Rhian must not only deal with the threat of war, but also with Ethrea's relationship with other foreign countries. These foreign countries must be convinced that the threat is real and to aid Ethrea against Mijak. As with all political matters, the ambassadors are reluctant to offer help. But one country, the mysterious Tzhung-tzhungchai who are rumored to use sorcery in many of its dealings, is willing to help Rhian. Unfortunately, their support causes many concerns among the other countries and may even prevent some of them from joining in the war.

In addition to all of this, Queen Rhian must also deal with matters that are closer to home, specifically two Ethrean dukes who are refusing to accept that she is queen and are offering her resistance and trouble. Then there are the charters that were drawn up centuries ago which are preventing Ethrea from forming an army, leaving them defenseless in case of an attack and dependent upon other countries for help against any threats. And on the personal front, Rhian has to deal with a husband, Alasdair, who is bitter and distant with her in matters of their marriage and the kingdom

Finally, there is Zandakar, a blue-haired former prince of Mijak who is being held in Ethrea after being banished from Mijak. Although he is a great warrior and willing to train the citizens of Ethrea, questions of his loyalty and willingness to help a country that his mother and brother are trying to destroy, inevitably arise.

Can everyone put aside their differences in time to stop Mijak, or will their differences cause the downfall of the world?

Hammer of God” is the conclusion to the Godspeaker Trilogy and follows a format more similar to that of the second book, “The Riven Kingdom”, than that of “Empress”. For one, Empress Hekat is in the book very little. While at times the plot shifts to Mijak, the main focus is on Ethrea and the people involved in that country. Throughout the series, Karen Miller seemed a lot more confident writing in the world of Ethrea than Mijak, whether it was because Ethrea offers more of a European-influenced setting and therefore more options, or just because Mijak was a newer setting and took more time to develop, I don’t know. But compared to the first book, it seems like there is more growth and less repetition, although there is still some awkwardness present.

One positive in Miller's writing style is the amount of time spent developing characters. In particular, the conversations between characters and their internal thoughts which helps readers see the many different sides to a person. So even though there are many typical characters throughout the book including those that readers love to hate or those that are frustrating, overall everyone has more than one side to them. For example,those characters that are seen as tough and bull-headed, have faults to them or have second thoughts about their actions.

Encountered throughout the novel were two negative aspects: the major focus on talk and politics, and the vagueness of religion and gods in the plot. Of the first, while the pace of the novel was very quick, there is a lot of time spent on having the readers look inside the workings of the courts, specifically Ethrean courts. As insightful as this information is at first because it helps us understand Queen Rhian’s actions, the phrase “all talk and no action” comes to mind. And a lot of the talk is very repetitive, with many questions revolving around the same issue such as who will help if Mijak attacks, resulting in readers hearing the same reactions over and over again. Plus, there is very little action in the book aside from the final clash between Ethrea and Mijak.

The second negative aspect is the focus on religion, which plays such a key role in the trilogy. There is the dark god of Mijak that feeds off of sacrifices, and then there is the god of Ethrea that is more of an understanding god who works through miracles and is happy with just prayer. Apart from the revelation that there is a darker power corrupting Mijak’s god, there is very little depth behind the religion in the book. Instead, the notion of the two gods is very vague, leaving a few gaps and questions within the plot. For example, the whole notion of having a powerful weapon of god, be it used for good or for evil, is never really explored. Instead, it feels as though the Hammer of God is just thrown out there, with very little explanation as to how or why the gods created such a weapon or what its purpose is.

In the end, I found the whole Godspeaker Trilogy a decent read. My major complaint revolves around the ending of the series. Even though the trilogy tops off at 2100 pages, I felt a sense of incompleteness to the series. After so much time spent with these characters, I was hoping for a more satisfying conclusion. Instead, it feels as though there should be a fourth book, or at least more added to the epilogue so that everything is tied up in the end. With that aside, I enjoyed Miller's character development and can't wait to see how she grows with future series...


Liviu said...

That was my problem with the series and the author' Mage series; so many pages, so few things happening.

I like ms. Miller's style, but it's getting so ridiculous to write 2100 pages and have things happen that would fit into 600 at best...

Accidental Sorcerer published as KE Mills, but showing the same narrative pull is much betetr from this point of view, since it's not so big and lots of things happen for once

Cindy said...

The series just seemed to go in circles sometimes, which made it hard to continue. The characterization is great, so I'm hoping that as Miller writes more books she finds a medium between action and characters.

It's almost become the norm now in fantasy books to have to have these long books. It's not the first time I've encountered this style of writing :(.

I have accidental sorcerer on my shelf but haven't picked it up yet.

ediFanoB said...

The whole trilogy is on my shelf. Thanks for the good review which helped me a lot. There are times when I prefer to read fantasy with less action. And now I know THE GOD SPEAKER TRILOGY belong to this kind of stories.

Cindy said...

You're very welcome for the review. It was great to see an author so focused on characters, sometimes it feels like they get lost in the shuffle of all the complex magic and worlds and such.

Mandy said...

I just finished this series two weeks ago and while I was first impress with the flip on fantasy conventions in the first book, the Riven Kingdom and Hammer of God turned out to be such duds that I returned the series. The criticism of repetition and little action is well deserved but overall, I didn't think the characters were very well developed since they were so two-dimensional. And the dialogue! So. Bloody. Repetitive.

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