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Monday, January 24, 2011

“Blackveil” by Kristen Britain (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Kristen Britain Website
Order “BlackveilHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The High King’s Tomb

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kristen Britain is the author of the bestselling Green Rider fantasy series which includes Green Rider, First Rider’s Call, The High King’s Tomb and Blackveil.

PLOT SUMMARY: Over a millennium ago, Mornhavon the Black, heir to the Arcosian Empire, crossed the great sea hoping to replenish his depleted country by conquering the rich lands of Sacoridia. But Mornhavon underestimated the defenders of this far away land, and after years of siege, Mornhavon and his armies were vanquished—but not before Mornhavon resorted to desperate, dark magics that rendered his twisted spirit immortal. Eventually, Mornhavon was captured and imprisoned in Blackveil Forest, with Blackveil’s perimeter enclosed and protected by the magical D’Yer Wall.

For the thousand years since the end of that Long War, Blackveil Forest has been a dangerous place—corrupted by the spirit of this eternally malicious entity, its flora and fauna twisted in monstrous ways. But in the many centuries since the war’s end, knowledge of the working of magic has slowly disappeared from Sacoridia, due to the fear and prejudice of a people traumatized by the memory of the terrifying sorceries of Mornhavon’s invading army. Even the protective magic that created and maintained the D’Yer Wall has been lost.

But this once-impermeable barrier has now been breached, allowing Blackveil’s malignant influence to begin to seep into the lands beyond the wall, threatening all of Sacoridia once again.

Karigan G’ladheon is a Green Rider—a seasoned member of the elite messenger corps of King Zachary of Sacoridia. Though Karigan was recruited to the Riders seemingly by chance, she has achieved more than any Rider since the corps was founded during the Long War, and has even been made a Knight of the Realm—the first to be so honored in over two hundred years. Karigan wears the magical brooch of the First Rider, an artifact that enables her to “fade,” sometimes to the point of traversing the barriers of time and space. Because of this extraordinary ability, she was able to enter Blackveil and transport the spirit of Mornhavon into the future, buying precious time for her country. Time for the Riders to scour the land searching for lost magical documents, and for members of Clan D’Yer to study the wall, hoping to uncover the secrets of their ancestors.

But Sacoridians are not the only people interested in the fate of Blackveil. For eons before the Long War, the peninsula where the tainted forest now stands belonged to the Eletians, an immortal race. With Mornhavon temporarily absent, they plan to send a small delegation into the forest to see what has become of their long-lost city, Argenthyne. But King Zachary senses the secretive Eletians are not being completely honest with him, and insists that an equal number of Sacoridians accompany them. Karigan, because of her previous experience in Blackveil, is an obvious choice for this perilous expedition.

Though Mornhavon is gone, the forest is still a treacherous and unnatural place filled with monstrous creatures and deadly traps. Plus, no one knows how far in the future Mornhavon has been sent—a hundred years? Ten years? A few years? Maybe even less? And unbeknownst to the contingent of Eletians and Sacoridians, another small group has entered the forest—a contingent of Arcosian descendents who have kept Mornhavon’s dark magic alive in secret for centuries, and who now plan to avenge their long ago defeat by bringing Sacoridia to its knees...

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a reluctant heroine with incredible magical powers she did not know she possessed, an ancient evil bent on conquering the land, quests, a medieval-influenced feudal system, an elf-like race, and many other familiar tropes, the Green Rider series is traditional epic fantasy in the vein of Tolkien, Tad Williams, Terry Brooks, Kate Elliott, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Greg Keyes, Jennifer Roberson, and David Farland.

FORMAT/INFO: Blackveil is 663 pages long divided over many unnumbered/titled chapters. Also includes a map of Blackveil/Argenthyne. Narration is in the third person via several different point-of-views, both major characters and supporting ones as well as heroes and villains, including the main protagonist Karigan G’ladheon; Laren Mapstone, captain of the Green Riders; Xandis Pierce Amberhill; Grandmother of the Second Empire, Alton D’Yer; Lady Estora, King Zachary’s betrothed; and a few other minor players. Blackveil is the fourth volume in the Green Rider series after Green Rider, First Rider’s Call and The High King’s Tomb. Enough background information is provided for readers new to the series to jump in with Blackveil, but it’s not recommended. As far as the ending, expect a series of cliffhangers to conclude Blackveil.

February 1, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Blackveil via DAW. Cover art is once again provided by Donato. The UK version (see below) will be published on June 16, 2011 via Gollancz.

ANALYSIS: It’s hard to believe, but the first Green Rider novel was released in 1998. Since then, my taste in books has evolved considerably. Fantasy may remain my favorite genre, but I’m more willing and eager to try out different kinds of novels, while the fantasy I enjoy the most these days tends to be of the less traditional variety. That said, there will always be a special place in my heart for traditional epic fantasy, which is why I couldn’t wait to read Blackveil, the latest volume in Kristen Britain’s Green Rider series. At the same time however, I worried the book would suffer from the same issues that hindered The High King’s Tomb. Unfortunately, I was right.

First though, the good news. Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that Blackveil does not deviate much from the formula established in the first three Green Rider books. Characters are still likable and well-developed with romance a major theme; the action remains exciting and family-friendly—for the most part at least; and Kristen Britain’s writing is once again charming and accessible, while demonstrating noticeable improvement with her prose. In short, most of the ingredients that made the first three Green Rider novels so much fun to read are still present in Blackveil.

The problem with Blackveil, the same problem that plagued The High King’s Tomb, is with the story. Or more precisely, the concern that Kristen Britain is starting to follow in the footsteps of Robert Jordan and making her fantasy series longer than necessary. After all, the Green Rider series was originally promoted as a trilogy, but obviously we’re at book four now with a fifth volume already in the works, and who knows how many other volumes yet to be published. Personally, I don’t mind that the author is extending the series—I really enjoy the characters and the setting after all—but the manner in which Kristen Britain is prolonging the Green Rider saga is disheartening. Instead of focusing on the main story arc involving Mornhavon the Black, Second Empire and Sacoridia, the series has become weighted down with trivial matters like Karigan’s love life, court politics and family drama. This was a major issue in The High King’s Tomb, and sadly Blackveil suffers from the same problem.

As the title implies, the fourth book in the Green Rider series revolves around the corrupted forest Blackveil and the different factions who seek something there including Grandmother, the Eletians, and Karigan. This storyline, which features some of the most thrilling moments in the novel, is a lot of fun to read. The problem is that it’s overshadowed by such mundane matters as Karigan dealing with family secrets; the numerous romantic complications that arise concerning Karigan, Lady Estora, Alton D’Yer and Estral Andovian; court politics involving King Zachary’s marriage, assassination attempts and a power-hungry advisor; and even a masquerade ball. While these subplots are there to add depth and substance to the characters and main story arc in the series, they just take too long to develop, significantly slowing down the pace of the novel and bloating the page count. To make matters worse, a number of subplots fail to progress very far including the breach at D’Yer Wall, the pending war against Second Empire, and Xandis Pierce Amberhill’s fascination with pirates and the sea kings resulting in cliffhangers that are difficult to stomach considering the lengthy wait between volumes, while the story itself offers very few surprises due to familiar ideas and transparent plotting.

Apart from these issues with the story and concerns about the extended length of the series, Kristen Britain’s Blackveil has everything that Green Rider fans could hope for including romance, adventure, humor, time travel, dark magic, entertaining drama, ghosts, prophetic visions, and much more. In fact, even with all of the problems the book suffers from—bloated page count, trivial subplots, cliffhangers, etc.—Blackveil is still one of the better entries in the series. Unfortunately, I can only recommend Blackveil and the series it is a part of to die-hard Green Rider fans and anyone who loves to read traditional epic fantasy and is not bothered by archetypes and tropes. As for those who want something different, it would be wise to look elsewhere...

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

very much agree. some of it is entertaining, but its no more shallow, cliche-ridden and/or trashier than whatever gets shat out the D&D library.

Anonymous said...

should be studying right now but just have to finish the book, judging by the ending, (i couldn't resist a sneak peak i hope it isn't too long before the fifth book comes out, the green rider books are in danger of becoming a rather expensive habit, since i am too impatient to await the uk release date i have to ship them over from the us... mostly

Anonymous said...

I fully agree. In addition, I am having trouble seeing how Amberhill's subplot fits in with the main story arch.

Rachel said...

Robert,

I don't want to give out any spoilers so I'm going to be a little vague.

How do you feel about the male rape scene in Blackveil? Did Kristen Britain write the rape scene because the whole book is about how dark Karigan's world is getting? Will there be consequences to these actions, or is it going to be fully rationalized and/or ignored in the later books? I mean, I can totally see the plot line go nowhere because of the rationalization,"People didn't believe in male rape back in medieval times."

I am totally disgusted by the plot line and it's one of the main reasons I'm not buying anymore books from Ms. Britain.

Robert said...

Thanks for the comments everyone! Hopefully it won't take very long for the next book, but going by the previous novels, I say we'll have to wait at least a few years.

It is quite a delay for the UK release of Blackveil, but I have to say I really like the designs they came up with for the series.

Rachel, I admit I was a little surprised by that plotline. It's definitely a bit darker for a Kristen Britain novel, but it didn't really bother me. After all, he was somewhat conscious when it happened. Plus, I've never read anything quite like it in a fantasy novel before, so I was curious to see how it would play out.

As far as consequences, I think there will be some regarding the love triangle involving Karigan, but not the act itself. That seems to be pretty much resolved...

Rachel said...

It's definitely a bit darker for a Kristen Britain novel, but it didn't really bother me. After all, he was somewhat conscious when it happened.

Uh...wow. Please think hard about what you are saying here, Robert. If it was a female who was semi-conscious and it was a male having his way with her, *everyone* would be screaming rape, because it *is* rape. Just because it's a male character that is getting taken advantage of, doesn't mean it isn't rape.

Robert said...

To be honest Rachel, until you phrased it as such, I didn’t even think of that scene as ‘rape’. To me, I wasn’t just looking at the physical aspect of what happened, but the entire scenario and the reasons behind it, and from that viewpoint, I saw it more as a betrayal of his trust and his authority. Now just looking at the physical act of what happened, then yes, I would classify that scene as rape. However, compared to a lot of stuff that I’ve read or seen in books & movies, it’s pretty tame. After all, there’s no violence or brutality involved, and the scene was written in a tasteful manner.

Plus, I still believe that him being semi-conscious during the act—to a point where he was actually enjoying and responding to the act—makes some difference. A woman can be raped without being conscious. A man raped by a woman? To the point of consummation? I would think he would have to be somewhat conscious for that to work. Does it make the act any better? No, but there is still some distinction, however little it may be.

Overall though, I can understand how this scene would offend some readers, especially considering Kristen Britain’s novels have been mainly family-friendly fare. But you have to look at it from my point of view as well. I’ve read/seen much much worse, and dozens of times at that, so for me, that scene wasn’t a big deal at all...

Anonymous said...

Overall, I liked the book. And agree with everything in the review. However, I didn't like the cliffhanger ending, but will be looking up the next book several years from now when it gets published.

I wasn't happy with the rape scene, (and yes it's a rape scene--using any date rape type drug is still rape) but I do agree that I've read far, far darker plot developments in many fantasy novels, but this scene was surprising in that it seemed a little more adult (?) than the rest of the books. I know these aren't YA books, but they are very close, IMHO. If I'm reading a series, and I like the tone of the books--I like that tone to stay true to the series. If that makes sense.

Another point that I wondered about: wouldn't drugging and using the king be an act of treason? I certainly hope it is, because I soooo want that little hussy to have something bad happen to her.

Okay....I'm done venting.


All things aside, I still enjoyed this novel.

Diane.

Robert said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Diane. For a Kristen Britain novel, there are definitely some dark moments in the book, but it's nothing compared to someone like Jesse Bullington ;)

Regarding Lady Estora, I think she's safe as far as treason goes, but her romantic life remains complicated...

Anonymous said...

Just finished the book at 1AM this morning. I really enjoyed parts of the book, but like many the actions taken by Lady Estora and those who were supposed to be ‘closest’ to the King, made me a little sick. I agree with Robert that the rape was symbolic of how the people closest to him violated his trust in the most vile of fashions. To stop reading because of symbolism, no matter it’s form, is ridiculous.

That being said, the cliff hanger at the end? Like, the -massive- cliff hanger at the end? I’m not very happy with since it will be years before the next book is out. At the end of a book, there should at least be a moderation of closer – I felt no closure. I understand leaving things unsaid so that there can be a next installment, but really? There had to have been a better way to end that book.

Sissi said...

I think Robert Thompson wrote an excellent review. I agree on so many points. However I liked the feedback from both Rachel and Diane because I too felt the rape scene was out of place for this series. If Ms. Britain felt it was neccessary then I suppose she knows best (afterall they are her characters) and it added an element of intrigue. It was a clever way to expose the Kings true feelings for Karrigan. An added surprise was Ben (the mender) being aware of what the King was doing and now he too knows that Karrigan is Zachary's true love. I was a little dissapointed with Capt. Mapstone, to me her role is becoming a little like a soap opera villan! A few things I wondered about; what happened to the 'If I don't make it back letters' will Laren intercept them and hide the King's? What happened to the third Eletian? Is he with Karrigan? Surely she isn't in the castle toombs!! I hope not. I am sorry this went on for so long. Sara

Robert said...

Thanks for the comments Anonymous and Sara! I actually asked Ms. Britain about the 'rape scene', but wasn't able to get a response. Regarding the cliffhanger, it is disappointing considering the lengthy wait between the previous volumes, but maybe we won't have to wait as long this time. Sara, those are all interesting points you bring up, and it will be interesting to see if they are addressed in the sequel...

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the comments. There was a lot of useless trivia,I wasn't at all interested in Karigans's fathers seafaring history and skipped over that part as well as other little bits. Having been introduced to Amberhill, his seafaring adventures sound like they would be worthy of their own book/s. I found him interesting and would like to hear more, but not in the Green Rider stories, I did wonder what was the significance of the pendant he gave to Estora. I thought the ending was dreadful, cliff hangers are best left for the television and resumed in 6 months at the latest and I hope it isn't going to turn into some never ending story. I also wonder if Miss Britain started something she doesn't know how to get out of with the Karigan - Zacary romance, I would love that ending, but can't see how it can come about.

Pearl said...

I finished this book awhile ago and agree with a lot that has been said. However, as vile as the rape scene was, I think it's probably a way out for Zachary later. No consensual consummation = no marriage. Amberhill's adventures may actually be going somewhere. Arcosia was across the sea, so maybe he'll find out what happened to the Empire, or maybe he'll find a way to help ultimately defeated Mornhavon. Either way, I think it might be too soon to tell if that storyline is going to work. However again, the cliff hanger was soooo unnecessary! The previous books sold fine without that silliness! It would be nice if writers stopped using such over the top and silly ploys to sell books we're already going to buy! Urg.

RSC said...

Enjoyed the book. Didn't like the ending!!! But: 1. I think Karigan is in the "queen to be"'s tomb--prophetic, huh? 2. I think the "rape" scene was a way to get Estora pregnanat without Zachary betraying Karigan. Then Estora could die in childbirth (sorry for such fatalism!), producing an heir and Zachary and Karigan could get together. 3. I hope Amberhill does find out about Arcosia. 4. Lala is scary!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rachel and the rest. There was a betrayal of trust among his closest advisers including Capt Mapstone. It was heartbreaking to see how they use Zachary. He has to marry a noble person because he is a king,and it was expected of him. Come on! You are the king and he shouldn't let his advisers push him around. As for being drugged and forced to marry and consummate it, that is a form of coercion and a rape. The plot is getting darker and darker and I don't know if she can bring it to more palatable to the audience. I want Zachary and Karrigan,not Zachary and Lady Estora nor Karrigan and Amberhill. It was disappointing in the end but I hope she can redeem it on the next book.

Maggie said...

I didn't read everyone's comments on this subject, so I apologize if this has already been brought up. However, when I was buying the ebook from amazon I read some of the reviews that were there at the time and was a bit shocked to learn that KB has included a rape scene in her book. But I was prepared for it and I kept waiting for it. And waiting, and waiting... And then I got to the end and I was a little confused that I missed something so pivotal. I thought back and figured out that the Estora/Zachary scene. My question to you is, who was raped?
Before you jump on this like crazy, consider. Estora didn't want to be there in the first place. She was there under duress as her life and the lives of her immediate family members were being threatened by her cousin. Zachary being semi-concious was a bit of a twist; however, both Estora and Zachary were drugged, neither were able to control their actions completely. So who are you saying raped who? It wasn't concensual on either side. If you are looking for people to punish, they have been punished, the worst offender of the lot the most severely. Is the scene distasteful? Absolutely. Many things accomplished for political motives are. Does it take away from Estora's character? It shouldn't, considering her circumstances. She never actually thought anything would occur. Is it a reason to stop buying and reading her books? Probably not. The world has bad things in it. Even fantasy worlds. I found the book enjoyable, even while bristling at the politics. I will admit to skipping over a lot of the Amberhill subplot though. I'll re-read it later when it's importance becomes more clear.

Anonymous said...

When I started reading the previous comments, I was stunned. What rape scene? What had I missed? Finally realizing what folks were talking about, I had to really think about this. Although I understand that rape can happen even between married (OK, forcibly married) people, I can't see putting modern day social norms in a medieval setting like that. The politics and customs of the time, disgusting as they may be, were just that; the norm for people in that social (royal) situation. Royalty, even in modern times, cannot simply do as they please. There are lots of restrictions and things one does for ones kingdom, and even though King Zachary was betrayed, most of the conspirators really thought they were doing what was best for the country under the circumstances. I really didn't think it was that big of a deal as far as the story line went. If anything was upsetting, it was the part that she put in about all the "witnesses" watching, even though the cousin was the only one who actually did. Now THAT'S creepy.

Guree Love said...

Okay. This book left me fuming, smiling, sad, haunted, and all the more fuming!!! There are two parts to this if anyone wants to bother reading it.
For starters, I think KB did an excellent job at making Estora non-hate-able. I am a true Karigan-Zachary Fan. But I really want Estora to survive and for her kid too because she's a poor girl who didn't have much choice in the matter. I was hoping beyond hope that she would run off with Amberhill or something but no. Even though she is in love with Zachary (KB sure knows how to complicate things) she still wants to help her friend in the end, showing that she is good. She would be a good queen. Honestly. She even gives credit of her "ingenious" plot to that same friend. Most people wouldn't do such a thing.
I also believe there really is no satisfactory end to Karigon/Zachary. KB made it too complicated and I believe the most clean way to close this is for Zachary to fall for his beautiful, earnest queen who loves him dearly and for Karigan to move on to some other guy. Not Amberhill. His greed for gold and the way he is obsessed with becoming a titular noble that demands respect does not mesh well Karigan. She loved Zachary because he was selfless and Amberhill only thinks about himself the entire series. I had actually had my fingers crossed for Karigan and Yates. Yates did love her too. But I already knew the moment he was picked for the expedition into Blackveil that he was a goner. Premonition. He was too happy. His death only made it all the more obvious that KB is pairing Karigan with Zachary though I can't think of a way to end this relationship without me still feeling a little put off. In fact, during the "rape" scene I wanted to throw my book across the room. I said I was a K/Z fan didn't I? I was really sad when Yates died.
I actually think Blackveil made the main plot a little ... silly now. Mornhaven seems ridiculous, coming in and lasting only a few pages only to be injured and thrown off the book again just like that. Grandmother made me more scared. Lala is CREEPY but I get the feeling she's going to be a Green Rider. She was unusually attached to the pony and this is brought up again and again. Maybe when lala gets older, she'd adhere to the call. I did feel for Estral.
I was also angry because Karigan is an idiot in this entire plot. She doesn't do ANYTHING for herself this time around. She just did what others tell told her. At least in the other books, she actually used her own wits to go through with things. The only thing she did in this was choose a mask, then break it to create the most frustrating cliff hanger ending in the entire series. The ONLY Cliff hanger ending.
And the cliff hanger was an issue all together! KB takes forever to write her books and i had to reread all of the other three before this one just so i could remember who everyone was. I was immensely happy reading the first three but the fourth one actually just made me fume with anger. All the other books had a nice end to it so that I was happy and content and could actually wait for the next book. Now, i think i'll just boil in anger and not want to touch the book by the time it comes out from being emotionally exhausted. I’ll buy it eventually.
She also abuses and hurts her characters to no end. I really liked Yates.

Guree Love said...

Part two: I don't want Karigan to get with Zachary anymore because to me, the relationship feels tainted. If Estora had been evil, then she could die, Zachary would be appalled, and the two could get together and the readers wouldn't give a horse doodoo for Estora. But no, she's good. And the problem is, Zachary is growing to care for her and if she was to die, he would be extremely sad. I can't see how he would get with Karigan because it would be rude to his current queen's memory; a queen who worked hard for her country in her own way and is showing promise. Karigan would always be compared to the beauty and kindness of Estora and that would taint the relationship. The reason the K/Z relationship has so much charm is how much Zachary cares for Karigan despite everything that tries to hinder them and the distance. but the purity of a "one-sided" love would be tainted now that Estora got thrown into the mix. Plus now, he has already "consummated" his marriage and so in my mind forever defiled. Unless KB has a plot line that I myself am too stupid to contrive, I really can't see how she is going to end this cleanly.
I really hope this series ends soon like one or two books. I think authors should know when to end a series. Dragging it out becomes extremely dangerous. I hope the books come out soon. Maybe because her books are doing better, she'd be more pressured to write a little faster.
Despite being angry at the book most of the time, I really want to know how things end. I care so much for all the characters.
Sorry comment was so long. Toodles :D
Always Guree

Rachel Harpenau said...

I seriously should not have read these comments before I finished the book! Ack! I guess now I can mentally prepare myself for the "rape" scene between Zachary and Estora. Karigan and Zachary will end up together in the end though, she has let on to plenty of foreshadowing to indicate that in the last three books. Luckily I didn't start this series until a couple months ago, so when I'm done with Blackveil, I should only have a few months to wait for the next installment to come out this May!

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