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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

“The River Kings’ Road” by Liane Merciel (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Liane Merciel Website
Order “The River Kings’ RoadHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION:The River Kings’ Road” is Liane Merciel’s first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: When a gruesome massacre wipes out the border village of Willowfield, including a visiting lord and his family, the fragile peace between the rival kingdoms of Oakharn and Langmyr is immediately threatened.

But the dead lord’s infant heir has survived the carnage—a discovery that entwines the destinies of Brys Tarnell, a mercenary who rescues the helpless and ailing babe; Odosse, the peasant woman whose only weapons are wit, courage, and her fierce maternal love; Sir Kelland, a divinely blessed Knight of the Sun called upon to unmask the architects behind the slaughter and avert war between ancestral enemies; Bitharn, Kelland’s companion on his journey whose feelings for the Knight may ultimately be his undoing; and Leferic, an Oakharne lord’s bitter youngest son whose dark ambitions fuel the most horrific acts of violence.

As one infant’s life hangs in the balance, so too does the fate of thousands—while deep in the forest, a Maimed Witch practices an evil bloodmagic that could doom them all...

CLASSIFICATION:The River Kings’ Road” is a traditional, medieval European-influenced epic fantasy in the vein of Greg Keyes’ The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone, David Farland, and early J.V. Jones.

FORMAT/INFO:The River Kings’ Road” is 384 pages long divided over twenty numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Brys Tarnell, Odosse, Bitharn, Leferic, and Albric Urdaring. “The River Kings’ Road” comes to a natural and satisfying stopping point, but is the first volume in a new fantasy series set in the world of Ithelas.

March 9, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The River Kings’ Road” via Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster.

ANALYSIS: One of the things I love best about reading fantasy is the scope and diversity that the genre has to offer—a scope and diversity that is only limited by the imagination of writers. That said, there’s just something comforting about the familiar, whether it’s reading a book by your favorite author, re-reading a favorite novel or series, or reading a book that reminds you of something you read in the past. This is exactly how I felt when reading Liane Merciel’s debut novel, “The River Kings’ Road”...

From top to bottom, “The River Kings’ Road” will be instantly familiar to anyone well-versed in fantasy literature. The setting is classic medieval European, complete with fiefs, kingdoms, knights, sellswords, peasants, bandits, sword/melee/archery competitions, brothels, inns, taverns, etc. The characters are all recognizable types (the practical mercenary, the peasant with dreams far above her station, the lord who believes he would make a better leader for his people, the woman skilled in archery, a knight bound by his duty to his lord) with clear-cut good and evil figures, although the author does inject some ambiguity into Brys, Leferic and Albric. The story is full of familiar tropes and themes including warring kingdoms, fratricide, the undead, honor, guilt, redemption, sacrifice, committing acts of evil in the name of the greater good, and so on. The magic system relies on the blessings of gods—Celestia for the Sun Knights, Kliasta for the Thorns (practitioners of bloodmagic). And the writing, while competent as a whole, lacks a distinctive voice and tends to follow a formulaic pattern right down to the multiple narratives, predictable world-building, and setting up events for the rest of the series.

Yet for all of its familiarity, I really enjoyed reading “The River Kings’ Road”. The plot was fast-moving, entertaining, and acessible while also managing to throw a couple of unexpected curveballs at the reader. The setting is well-realized and hints at a much larger and interesting world. I cared about the characters. And I finished the novel wanting to know what happens next. In short, even though “The River Kings’ Road” fails to bring anything new to the fantasy genre, I liked what I saw from Liane Merciel’s debut, and believe the book is a promising start to what could be a fun and engaging new fantasy series...


PeterWilliam said...

I recently reviewed this (a rare ARC I received) and agree completely with Robert here. Usually, Liv's recommendations are my gold standard (for recommendations on what to buy - I'm reviewing my own purchases). I recall Liv didn't have as much with it as I did.

Robert: Is there a site/blog for Merciel? Thus far, I've found nothing author specific. I was wondering what the status/progress report on book #2 is.

Robert said...

Peter, Liane has a website here:

Also, I sent her an email today asking about her next book and this is what she replied with:

"If all goes according to schedule, Heaven's Needle should follow in March 2011.

I'm not sure how well it's going to go over with people who liked the first book; it's a fantasy-horror hybrid rather than being straight high fantasy, and it's a whole lot darker. It also takes place in a different part of the world and only features two of the original characters (as you can probably guess, those two are Kelland and Bitharn)."

Personally, I'm really excited for the second book :D

PeterWilliam said...

Yeah, I'm excited too. This is going exactly where I thought it could, and should. The horror-fantasy hybrid part will be perfect with the casters of the bloodmagic.

Robert said...

I enjoy reading horror about as much as I do fantasy, so "Heaven's Needle" will be right up my alley. And personally, I wish there was more crossover between fantasy and just makes sense :)

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this book also, & I'll be donating my copy to our library so others can enjoy it :) It had everything I like; great detail in descriptions, action & adventure with a couple of twists & yanks on the heartstrings, and a nice surprise ending. Very well done!

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