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Friday, July 19, 2013

The Dark Thorn by Shawn Speakman (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman and Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order The Dark Thorn HERE 
Order Unfettered HERE
Read Word Of Mouth Or Just Let Me Be Read by Shawn Speakman (guest post)
Read an excerpt of The Dark Thorn HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Shawn Speakman grew up in the beautiful wilds of Washington State near a volcano and surrounded by old-growth forests filled with magic. After moving to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, he befriended New York Times best-selling fantasy author Terry Brooks and became his webmaster, leading to an enchanted life surrounded by words.

He is also the webmaster for authors Naomi Novik and David Anthony Durham. Shawn now owns the online bookstore The Signed Page and is a freelance writer for Suvudu. He also contributed the annotations for The Annotated Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks. Shawn is a cancer survivor, and currently lives in Seattle, Washington. The Dark Thorn is his debut novel.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Beneath the streets of Seattle, a long-forgotten war is about to be renewed...

Richard McAllister, a spiritually destitute homeless man and Knight of the Yn Saith, protects one of seven portals linking his world to that of Annwn, where the fey Tuatha de Dannan of antiquity have been relegated by a long-running religious war. Unknown to Richard though, powerful forces are aligning against him and all he stands to keep safe. In the wilds of a discarded world, Philip Plantagenet, son of Henry II, moves to claim a birthright nine centuries in the making, one that drives him to eliminate the Tuatha de Dannan--at any cost to both worlds. In the halls of Vatican City, Cardinal Vicar Cormac Pell O'Connor schemes to control the Heliwr--the Unfettered Knight--one who possesses the great power known as the Dark Thorn.

The three men are on a collision course with history--and their futures. For in the wilds of Annwn, death comes as easily as magic. Haunted by a past he can't forget and a knightly responsibility he can't shun, Richard is drawn into levels of machinations--and two worlds--far darker than any he has prepared for.

FORMAT/INFO: The Dark Thorn is 478 pages long divided over thirty-nine chapters. In this book, narration is in the third-person, via Richard McAllister, Bran Ardall, Lady Deidre Rhys, King Philip Plantagenet and Cardinal Vicar Cormac Pell O'Connor. There's also a map of Annwn included. The Dark Thorn is the first book of The Annwn Cycle.

November 25, 2011 marked the North American Hardcover and e-book self-publication of The Dark Thorn via Grim Oak Press. Cover art provided by Todd Lockwood.

ANALYSIS (Mihir): The Dark Thorn is Shawn Speakman’s debut vehicle. I was intrigued by it and thanks to Shawn who offered us a review copy. The blurb details an urban fantasy world with fantasy elements and makes for intriguing plotline. I was able to read an excerpt and that impressed me greatly. The whole book was another thing altogether.

The plot of The Dark Thorn is a multivariate one and focuses on many characters; the first one is Richard McAllister. A knight in the metaphysical sense who lives in Seattle and has faced a whole host of worldly and other-worldly problems, he has had a rough past and even more troubles currently. His status as a knight of the word is a bit shaky but still reliable. Bran Ardall is an orphan lost on the streets of Seattle however his destiny pulls him on to the path with Richard. Bran doesn't quite know how his past ties into his present but he will have to partner with Richard to unveil all secrets. In another realm Philip Plantagenet, scion of Henry II is planning to rule the land of Tuatha de Dannan and he will do absolutely everything to conquer it entirely. Lastly there’s Cardinal Vicar Cormac Pell O’Connor who is in the Vatican doing his religious duties however knows all too well what truly is at stake. There’s much more happening in this first volume but that’s all I’m going to talk about the main plot.

Speaking about the book, it’s a veritable monster if you consider the usual book size in the urban fantasy genre. This story while primarily being an urban fantasy story has huge dollops of thriller and high fantasy genres as well. The author does his best to mix them up and gives us a story whose outcome is hard to predict. There are multiple threads focusing on various characters that speak of the author’s intent in creating a complex storyline spread across various realms. I found this to be a bit unique in regards to urban fantasy storylines. Yes The Dresden Files is currently mixing urban and high fantasy and building up to a big climax however the author never quite revealed this until the 7th book. Shawn on the other hand opens up the story in a dark, smashing fashion showcasing faeries, the Vatican church, an otherworldly realm and some Arthurian mythos. This is just a small teaser of what to expect from this book but rest assured there’s much more in the story to keep the readers occupied and wondering how it all ties in together.

The characterization becomes very crucial in a tale with a huge cast of characters and we get a wide variety of them. With Bran and Richard, we get two whom the audience can connect and root for. However the other POV character Deidre who starts off as simple maiden but gets sucked into a horrible arrangement, truly shows some surprising chops. Then there’s also Richard’s past mentor who is mysterious and devious at the same time and I’m very curious to see how the author develops his storyline further. The side character cast is also intriguing and I’m sure some of them will play major roles in the upcoming sequels. The main plot takes quite some turns which will keep the readers on their toes as they follow all the character arcs. Lastly there’s the magic system and world setting which aren't all that new but have been presented in a slightly new format with the obvious focus on Celtic and Arthurian elements.

Now while The Dark Thorn did manage to impress me quite a bit, there are some areas wherein it needs improvement. First the author plunges the readers directly into the story without much of an explanation. This is a bit Steven Erikson-esque and while some might enjoy such a introduction, there will be many who wouldn't prefer it to be so. The story takes a while to get itself grounded and the readers will have to labor on trying to understand what’s happening and who’s connected to which facet of the plotline. Secondly the pace of the story is uneven in the sense, there are some terrific action sequences but in between them, the story flounders a bit as the author pushes the story forward. Lastly there’s the morally ambiguous main POV character Richard, while many readers might enjoy his dark plot arc. His characterization might leave a lot unsettled and hard to connect with.

ANALYSIS (Cindy): I have to admit I have been looking forward to The Dark Thorn now for several months. The idea of an epic fantasy/urban fantasy set in Seattle always has me hooked and let's face it, I love finding new, talented authors. Then toss in the combination of English Folklore, Fairies, Swords and other things and I immediately knew I had to read this.

Shawn Speakman is an amazingly talented author. He takes what other authors have tried to do and succeeded. This is not the first time an author has tried to combine epic/urban fantasy elements into one novel and it won't be the last. However, where Speakman differs from other writers is he adds his own unique touch to the world and that is how he succeeds. There was just something about the style of writing, pacing of the novel, and character development that really makes a novel like this stand out. This book literally had me hooked from the second or third pages, and it was nearly impossible to put down.

Now, I will point out that I did find the main character – Richard McAllister – hard to like. I didn't hate him, I didn't dislike him; I just did not click with him. That is not a bad thing, because I think the unique elements and plot twists were enough to keep me reading, but I really wish that I had clicked with the character faster.

However, by the end of the novel he started to ever so slowly grow on me. I think with another read-through I might change my opinion on the story. I can definitely see myself liking the characters in other future books. 

Overall, I believe Shawn Speakman shows amazing promise. He is definitely a wordsmith who the fantasy community will be hearing more about in the future – if this novel is any indication of what is to come. Meanwhile, I will anxiously be awaiting the next book in the Annwn Cycle

CONCLUSION (Mihir): Shawn Speakman’s debut vehicle is one that showcases his talent and marks itself out to be a different book amidst the crowded urban fantasy genre. It has its plus points and some flaws but that shouldn't deter readers from giving it a shot. The Dark Thorn will surely feature in my year-end lists for the ingenuity shown in its plot and world setting while also providing some intriguing characters. If you are tired of reading the same old urban fantasy stories, then make sure you read this one, as it will surely refresh your mind as it did mine!


Tabitha (Pabkins) said...

Multivariate is very hard to do well!


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