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Monday, July 23, 2018

The Exercise Of Vital Powers by Ian Gregoire (Reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order The Exercise Of Vital Powers HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: The reclusive Ian Gregoire is a taciturn introvert residing somewhere in London, where he was born and raised. Of all life’s diversions, reading and writing are the only ones he ever deemed worthwhile enough to be passionate about. This eventually led to his belated decision to pursue his true calling in life as a fantasy and science fiction author. His debut novel, The Exercise Of Vital Powers, is just the first of many books he intends to inflict upon an unsuspecting world.

FORMAT/INFO: The Exercise Of Vital Powers is 450 pages long divided over twenty three numbered chapters. The narration is in the third person, and focuses on two POVs - Kayden Jayta and Fay Annis. This is the first volume of the Legends of the Order series.

The book is available in e-book and paperback formats. It was self-published by the author. Cover art and design are by Damonza.

CLASSIFICATION: The Exercise Of Vital Powers is an action-packed dark(ish) fantasy with strong coming of age arc.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Kayden is a bitch!

Don't look at me this way.

I'm not mean. I state the obvious.

Picture a reckless, ambitious, brilliant and determined young woman who's well aware of her superior intellect. Imagine that she treats everyone as a pitiful retard. She won't hesitate to beat you and abuse you to reach her goals. Do you picture her? Good, but the picture in your head is a nicer version of Kayden.

Ian Gregoire's debut novel participated in last year's SPFBO contest, and it did well. Kitty G, an awesome booktuber, has chosen it, somewhat unexpectedly, as her semi-finalist. Ultimately, the book didn't make it to the finals - it won the second place in Kitty's batch.

I've read the book as soon as it was chosen as a semi-finalist and I enjoyed it a lot. Sure, it wasn't perfect, but for a debut novel, it was more than promising. It had some flaws, starting with a weak cover or some awkward sentences. That's why I was thrilled to learn that the author decided to learn from the experience - upon realizing that his book lacked a professional touch, Gregoire withdrew his book from sales and invested time and money to make it a better product.

In my opinion, this alone deserves a re-read.

The Exercise Of Vital Powers is a book that describes events of two meaningful days. The story focuses on Zarantar's (magic system) apprentice – Kayden Jayta. She’s special. But not in a usual way. Failure is not an option for her. She is manipulative, willing to use and exploit other people for her ends, with no regard for the consequences. She is confrontational, believing power should be employed to cow people―to impose her will upon them. She treats most people in a condescending way approaching them as mentally challenged simpletons. She has no sense of authority – to reach a goal she’s ready to beat a teacher senseless and steal her memories of the event. As you may guess, she’s not the most popular person on the campus. It would be safe to say she’s the most hated one. At one stage of the story she’s described as follows:

You must not have been paying attention. I smile all the time.”
No, you don’t. You smirk. A withering smirk to let the recipients know they are less significant than the dirt beneath your boot.”

Angsty and arrogant teenagers aren’t that rare in fiction, however, when they have the power to bring kingdoms to their knees, they may stress out their teachers a bit. Kayden may become a tremendous asset to The Order – an organisation that keeps peace in The Nine Kingdoms. She may also become a harbinger of death and destruction as the history of the lore teaches us. Of course, Kayden doesn’t fully realize her full potential. She has other priorities - her resolute determination to join the ranks of The Order is born of a secret that puts her priorities at odds with the precepts of the organisation, setting her inexorably on a collision course with the most powerful institution in The Nine Kingdoms.

The book focuses on Kayden choosing her path. Some other conflicts are mentioned, some subplots are sketched, but The Exercise Of Vital Powers is, essentially, a book about Kayden. There’s no bigger agenda, and there’s no political intrigue. Only Kayden and her choices.

I love dislikable characters. Sherlock Holmes, agent Pendergast, Repairman Jack are my pals. I love characters who have darkness in them (Royce Melborne, Faran). I love rebels and outcasts. And yet at times, it was impossible to like Kayden. She's so self-absorbed and goal-oriented that she doesn't even try to understand others. So yes, have this in mind. Kayden is a bitch.

And as readers, we'll learn why and if she's willing to change.

It feels that the new edition went through the hands of a professional editor. While I've spotted one or two missing words, the writing feels neat and polished. Sentences are reasonably short and free from unnecessary adverbs found in the first edition. Overall, the flow of the prose and events is much better now; it makes the story smooth and easy to follow.

The story itself is entertaining and full of little surprises. It sucked me in literally since the beginning and was hard to put down. And by the beginning, I mean page number one. It wasn’t necessary to go through several chapters to get into the world. In the first chapter, we learn a lot about Kayden and her school. The next chapters and story development kept me entertained and engaged in the plot until the last part of the book.

We reach climax at around 85 % of the book. Later on, the story focuses on resolving various plot lines in, mostly, satisfying ways. We learn more about the world, the magic system and other things through dialogue filling the last pages of the story. As a result, the tone of the book changes to some extent. The tension drops. While it feels good to observe certain things revealed and explained, I think that the ending tells too much instead of showing things in a subtler way.

CONCLUSION: Overall, The Exercise Of Vital Powers, being a debut work, is a good book that every fan of character-driven fantasy should try to read. I encourage you to give it a chance as it manages to do something that’s not very common in a fantasy world. It grabs your attention from the first page and keeps you invested for the next few hundred pages.


Fee Roberts said...

Sounds pretty good. Thanks for the recommendation.


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