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Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Imbued Lockblade by M. D. Presley (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski)

Official Author Website
Order The Imbued Lockblade over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Woven Ring

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born and raised in Texas, Matthew D. Presley spent several years on the East Coast and now lives in California with his family. His favorite words include defenestrate, callipygian, and Algonquin. The fact that monosyllabic is such a long word keeps him up at night. He’s also worked as a professional Hollywood screenwriter who has written for Chinese TV serials as well. When not writing, he also makes jewelry for fun. The Woven Ring was his debut book.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Over the Mueller Line and stalking across the Eastern homeland she betrayed during the Grand War, Marta Childress now cares for the catatonic Caddie Hendrix, whom she has been tasked to deliver to the child’s father. Too bad Marta secretly intends on killing the man to save the nation of Newfield a second civil war.

Executed on the spot if anyone uncovers her identity, Marta also flees the relentless Render Graff and an unstoppable glassman, only to learn too late that worse horrors await her in the East. Fortunately, she can depend on her new freebooter friends Isabelle and Luca.

Yet Luca harbors secrets of his own, a grubber boy born with nothing but whose ambition earned him an imbued lockblade enchanted to ensure his victory so long as he holds it in hand.

FORMAT/INFO: The Imbued Lockblade is 321 pages long divided over thirty-seven chapters. Narration is in the third person via Marta Childress and Luca Dolphus mostly. This is the second volume of the Sol’s Harvest series.

November 20, 2017 marked the e-book & paperback publication of The Imbued Lockblade and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is provided by Amit Dutta.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After finishing The Woven Ring, I was thrilled to learn that the sequel was ready. The world of Ayr is worth discovering. Besides, I also have a small crush on Marta and there’s still plenty to learn about Carmichael’s schemes along with Luca and Isabelle’s pasts. There are multiple reasons to read this series. That’s why I applied to read ARC of the book through author’s website. Sadly, I wasn’t bribed to write this review. I received ARC. No check. Shame :/

If you haven’t read The Woven RingSol’s Harvest series can be described as a fantasy re-imagining of the American Civil War. It is important to note, though, that author uses history as inspiration for his story that happens in a world full of its own unique fantasy elements.

A major magical conceit is Breath, an essence left over from Sol's (deity/god) sacrifice of his life essence. Said essence flowed over the world and created life, each living thing containing a fragment of their creator (the Breath):
- Plants, as the simplest, have only one, making up the Body.
- Animals have two; the Body and Mind.
- Humans, as Sol's chosen, have three: Body, Mind, and Soul.

But some humans, known as Blessed, are born with four Breaths and gain additional abilities based on where the additional Breath resides. If it's in the Body, they can create psychic exoskeletons. If the Mind, they can either hear or influence the thoughts of others. And if it's in the Soul, they are able to control the Breath around them.

The Imbued Lockblade starts where we were left in The Woven Ring ending. Marta Childress accompanied by a pair of freebooters Luca and Isabelle plans to deliver catatonic (not fully) Caddie Hendrix to the child’s father. Too bad Marta secretly intends on killing the man to save the nation of Newfield from a second civil war.

She starts to trust her companions but she may be proven wrong as it seems Luca has plenty of secrets. In a similar way to The Woven Ring, The Imbued Lockblade merges (coherently) two storylines. One happening in the present, the other, showing Luca’s past and a path to becoming who he is, in the present.

Both plotlines move forward building up to a dual climax. I think the pacing was good, although, even before starting the book I was invested in the story and characters. For me, it was like a meeting with exciting people I want to know more about. I can imagine that readers focused on non-stop action may find pacing a bit slow in places. If you like Luca and want to know more about him, you’ll be thrilled by plenty of insights. If you don’t care about him, well, there’s a risk you’ll feel overwhelmed by a number of information on his backstory. All packed into action sequences, mind you.

The Imbued Lockblade is definitely a character-driven story. Both protagonists and antagonists are rather complex and morally ambiguous characters. They’re caught in a conflict that brings both worst and best from them. Each of them has dreams, plans, and aspirations, however, the civil war and personal dreams and conflicts influence their choices. And their choices influence others.

Marta is my favorite character, hands down. She’s not always likable and she was described as an antihero. To be honest, I don’t really see her as an antihero. After what she went through, I wouldn’t expect her to be sunny and cheerful. She’s definitely morally ambiguous but it’s precisely this that makes her so interesting to me. If you hoped that she would go to the pub with Graf and Carmichael to have beer, get things straight and tell some jokes, it won’t happen. Neither does she happily fall in love. Instead, she faces dangerous foes. Also, she’s painfully proven wrong. Even when she believed she had cut all of Carmichael’s strings, she still found herself playing her part in his performance without ever having seen the script. Both, irrepressible Render Graf and powerful Glassman Berenice Mauch are interested in destroying Marta as well. It’s too much and there’s a scene where Marta finally unleashes her fury and believe me it’s a slaughterhouse. Marta’s new Armor (sort of Exoskeleton) makes her dangerous in a fight. Wood and stone crumble before it like porcelain. I like her even more now.

It is, however, Luca Dolphus who gets the most attention in this book. We learn about him, his past and his relationship with Isabelle. We see how he’s manipulated by those close to his heart and what kind of human he is. Charming and charismatic, undefeated in a battle as long as he holds his Imbued Blade, Luca is an interesting character. Ambitious and passionate but also ready to sacrifice everything for his loved ones. And the sacrifice he does is great indeed. The story of Luca obtaining the Imbued Lockblade is a bit heart-wrenching and done well. It’s worth noting that part of his storyline describes Luca’s stay in Hottenkof School of Tshi. The concept is great (imagine a lockblade school inspired by flying insects and some cool trials allowing to move further in school hierarchy). I would gladly read a short story focusing on Luca’s misadventures during his stay there. After finishing the book I’m torn between liking and relating to Luca and considering him an asshole. On the other hand, his fate remains a mystery so I want to discover more.

While Isabelle isn’t a POV character, we learn much more about her and her relationship with Luca. Ingio blood runs in her veins and she really is wild at times. But also loyal to the end. A character trait worthy of  the reader's attention and appreciation.

Finally, Caddie’s secret is revealed (although not fully explained). In order not to spoil things, let’s just say that she straddles a unique position in the epistemological understanding of the will of Sol.

World-building continues to impress even more. Its scale and depth are praiseworthy. In book two author explores the culture of the Dobra (his mashup of the Roma/ Jewish traditions in our world). We learn a lot about their traditions and lifestyle. As well as their secret rituals, like imbuing things, a process that requires death. The clan structure is quite detailed and complicated.

Writing and prose are precise and to the point. There’s little of what you might call purple prose. The author seems to enjoy including archaisms and informal American terms, so checking some of the words in the dictionary was a fun (happily Kindle built-in dictionary is quite handy and helpful).

CONCLUSION: If you enjoyed The Woven Ring, chances are you’ll love The Imbued Lockblade. Especially if, like me, you were curious about Luca and Isabelle’s pasts. Luca is a true hero of this story – we learn a lot about him and Dobra culture. The book ends with a sort of cliffhanger or, shall we say, a game changer that will make things even more interesting. I can’t wait to see where the story goes. Also, I’m quite curious if the author will continue the tradition of telling the story in two parallel timelines presented in alternated chapters. I won’t lie. Carmichael’s perspective on the events could be compelling, given how finely he pulls all the strings. I wouldn’t mind learning more about Isabelle either.



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