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Monday, September 28, 2009

“Servant of a Dark God” by John Brown (Reviewed by Robert Thompson & Cindy Hannikman)

Official John Brown Website
Order “Servant of a Dark GodHERE
Read Excerpts HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Brown is the author of various short stories including the award-winning “The Scent of Desire”. “Servant of a Dark God” is his debut novel and the beginning of a brand new epic fantasy series with sequels currently slated for release in 2010 and 2011.

PLOT SUMMARY: Young Talen lives in a world where the days of a person’s life can be harvested, bought, and stolen. Only the great Divines, who rule every land, and the human soul-eaters, dark ones who steal from man and beast and become twisted by their polluted draws, know the secrets of this power. This land’s Divine has gone missing and soul-eaters are found among Talen’s people.

The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Thinking his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has far larger problems. An ancient being of frightening power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of man. Now trapped in a web of lies and secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform into the lord of the human harvest...

CLASSIFICATION:Servant of a Dark God” is a mostly traditional epic fantasy novel in the vein of David Farland, Greg Keyes and James Clemens with elements of Brandon Sanderson, David Keck and Kate Elliot...

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 448 pages divided over forty-nine titled chapters, a map of the Clan Lands of Whitecliff, and a short glossary. Narration is in the third person via Talen, Sugar, Hunger, Argoth and various minor characters including the Skir Master Rubaloth. “Servant of a Dark God” is somewhat self-contained coming to a satisfactory stopping point, but is the first book in a series that will see at least two sequels: “Curse of a Dark God” and “Dark God’s Glory”.

October 13, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Servant of a Dark God” via Tor. Cover art provided by Raymond Swanland.

ROBERT'S ANALYSIS: I love starting fantasy series, especially those written by brand new authors. Visiting a whole new secondary world; learning about new magic systems, religions, and cultures; getting to know new characters . . . I find it very exciting, and in this regard John Brown’s debut novel delivers. In particular, I was enthralled by the world John had created. A world full of strange and dark magic (Weaves, Divines, Sleth, Dreadmen, Victors, Skir, Ravelers), mysterious secrets (Grove of the Hismays, Mother) and compelling racial tensions between Mokkaddians and the slave-like Koramites. There’s a lot of information to process though, so the first half of the book can be a bit hard to follow, even with the glossary, while the frequent info-dumping sometimes affects the pacing. Creatively, the magic system possesses more than a few similarities to David Farland’s Runelords concept, but John introduces enough of his own ideas to keep it fresh and interesting.

As far as the writing, John delivers a solid effort. The prose is a bit dry and workmanlike, but flows with a nice rhythm and pace. Characters, both the main players and the supporting ones, are well-developed for the most part and likeable—my favorite was Hunger, a sort of anti-hero comprised of the souls and personalities of different people. The narrative voices do tend to sound the same though, and John has a tendency of staying with one character longer than necessary before switching viewpoints. Dialogue however, is terrific, especially the repartee between characters—even if the banter sometimes occurs at inappropriate moments—and I loved the simple names (Purity, Crab, Legs, River, Leaf, Serenity, etc). One thing I really noticed about John is that he’s much better at writing actions scenes than emotional ones...

Story-wise, “Servant of a Dark God” is a fairly traditional epic fantasy setup with youthful protagonists, undiscovered abilities, characters who are not what they seem, ancient powers, forces of good and evil, and so forth. Fortunately, John shakes things up a bit with the Mokkaddian/Koramite dynamic, Sleth prejudice, the blurry line between good and evil, and the idea that all humans are nothing more than cattle—livestock serving higher beings. Personally, I thought the first half of the novel was excellent, with its sense of mystery, engaging world-building, and the drama faced by the characters. However, after the plot advances, secrets are revealed, and the characters converge, the story starts to falter and becomes a less interesting generic adventure tale, although the book does pick up at the end with an explosive climax and a touching epilogue.

In the end, John Brown’sServant of a Dark God” is a better than average entry in the field of epic fantasy, with its own set of problems and promise. Happily, the good outweighs the bad, and with improvement, John Brown could become a fantasy author to watch...

CINDY'S ANALYSIS: Like Robert, I always enjoy reading new series and new authors. It's the excitement of learning something about a world that someone has completely made up from scratch and brought to life through words in a book. So when I picked up “Servant of a Dark God” I had no idea what to expect.

My experience with this book was mixed. I found the whole concept and world fairly exciting. There seemed to be an honest effort in bringing readers a new epic fantasy-like story. However, there were a lot of barriers while reading the book that prevented me from having the experience I usually enjoy while reading epic fantasies.

First, the writing seemed to be a bit choppy at times. There weren't details missing so much as the sentences didn't seem to flow as I was reading them. For example, while retelling a fight scene there seemed to be a lot of short sentences put together. This prevented me from really jumping into the story and enjoying the book.

The second weakness that I found while reading the novel was the complex story line. While going in I understood that the story was going to be complex, however this particular plot seemed overly complex. There were times when it was really hard to understand who was doing what, and what type of magic was being used. This, more so then the choppy writing, really made the book a difficult read.

Maybe with a reread of the novel it might become easier to follow the storyline, but on the first read it was hard to understand what was going on. The world was developed mostly throughout the whole novel, so while reading a certain part of the story an important fact would be thrown out, only to be found that it becomes important to a section of the novel.

Despite the weaknesses and complex story, I will still follow the series that John Brown has started. Many of the weaknesses could be made by a debut author, so I hope to see Mr. Brown touch on a few of these in the second novel. After all, there were characters that I really enjoyed in the novel and want to read more about.

Overall, John Brown’s first novel is a good effort at writing, but comes across as a little over eager with the details. I truly believe that Mr. Brown has the talent and mind to be a great epic fantasy writer though, and with a few improvements could have a great writing career. I look forward to seeing where he does go with this series.


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