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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

SPFBO Finalist: The Anointed by Keith Ward (reviewed by Lukasz Przywoski & Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Anointed over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Keith Ward has been writing fiction since he was little; in elementary school, he and his friend John wrote a series of skits called "We're in the army now," in which they were raw recruits. They'd write the script early in the week and act it out later in the week. 

For more than a dozen years he's written fiction, focusing on novels and screenplays. In 2012, his screenplay "Deadly Air," about the early days of the U.S. Airmail Service, won a special award at the Astana International Action Film Festival in Astana, Kazakhstan. He's also collaborated on screenplays with a major Hollywood producer.

He lives in Maryland, near Baltimore, with his glorious wife and whatever children haven't yet come to their senses and left the nest.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Xinlas’s life goal is modest: he wants to be a living legend, revered in song and story. And he’s off to a good start. He faced death once, and won. His legend grew -- at least in his own mind.

Fame comes calling on Xinlas again, or so he thinks, when he stumbles on a hidden village. The village has a resource that no one’s ever seen before. A resource that can be used to conquer other lands. A resource that a power-mad ruler will kill for.

Can Xinlas -- with the help of a mysterious orange-haired girl he meets on a river -- stop the man who would enslave millions? It will take a kind of courage found in legendary heroes. 


FORMAT: The Anointed was self-published by the author in December 2017 as a third book in Red Proxy series. It works as a standalone. It's available in an e-book, paperback and hardcover format. 

The book counts 489 pages and is divided into 70 numbered chapters. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (LUKASZ): The Anointed shows a lot of promise. It blends well-known tropes/topics (chosen one figure, coming-of-age arc) with interesting setting and unique ideas (transfer of life-span through Proxies). Unfortunately, it also falls short on providing a substantial character development and strong storytelling.

I liked the setting and the concept of lengthening the life. In theory, anyone with sufficient means can reach immortality through Transfers. In the process, a Transfer recipient gains the life Span of a Proxy (usually innocents and children). Getting more Transfers, gives you a longer life but increases the risk of Transfer Sickness that leads to insanity. 

Story’s protagonist, Xinlas, had done nothing noteworthy in his life. As the fortunate son of a rich, influential family, he dreams about becoming a hero. When it turns out his Span was probably miscalculated, Xinlas acts like a typical teenager. It gets him into troubles but it also drives the story forward, especially when he meets Greengrass - a mysterious and strange girl from Peacewood. 

Their worlds have little in common. In Peacewood, everyone works for the benefit of the community and they even don’t have words like money or buying. Greengrass’ driving force is curiosity. Xinlas’ actions steer from ambition, arrogance and angst. Their interactions are usually fun. 

That said, I haven’t warmed up to any of them. As most characters in the story, they felt rather two-dimensional. Their arcs contained uninteresting repetitions and lacked a hook that would make me turn the pages frantically just to learn what happens next.

Even though the story’s bad guy, DuQuall, feels slightly over-the-top, I liked his chapters most. DuQuall is a cold, ruthless and ridiculous ruler who doesn’t care for his people. He’s portrayed mainly through Plionya (his wife) and Jiixe (Span-seer) POV’s. Their parts of the book never lack tension, strong emotions, and good hooks that made me wonder what would come next. 

DuQuall used his children as Proxies. He wants to live forever and he fears his offspring would follow his footsteps and, once allowed to live and age, usurp his throne. I admired Plyonia’s strength and Jiixe’s skill in dealing with him.  

Ward’s utilitarian and simple prose is easy to follow but also repetitive and lackluster. I firmly believe in the power of brevity and I dislike unnecessary description or slowly developing chapters. Ward’s writing didn’t immerse me in the world and the events. Take a look at this quote about a character falling from the skies:

So this is what it feels like to fall off a dragon. Strange. Wow. I’m moving really fast. The ground is approaching quickly. I. Am. Going. To. Die. Nothing I can do about it. I just never thought something like this would happen. What about my destiny?

Maybe, just maybe, someone would actually think those words. No idea, I’ve never fallen off a dragon. But that’s irrelevant. They just don’t convey the danger and the drama. 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS (MIHIR): The Anointed is a book that I was super excited to read based on its blurb. The details that the blurb entails are pretty cool as is the spiffy cover. This world has some pretty cool features and dragons. All in all I was very much wanting to read this book.

The story has many POV characters and chief among them is Xinlas, our “hero” and resident problem child. He’s a sole surviving proxy baby which makes him uniquely arrogant. This world as presented is a very cool one, there’s the span concept which basically means that anybody who’s born immediately knows how long they will live. There’s also the fact that nothing can float in this world so potentially any water body is an unsurpassable boundary. There’s also the concept of proxy babies, which is a way for people to increase their life span (in a horrific way). There’s the sudden discovery of a hitherto hidden place which has magical wood which floats which suddenly causes the plot to go into high speed.

There’s a few more things that are bubbling under, but overall the world settings and magic system which really differentiate this story and this I believe is the USP of the story. For me though this book wasn’t an enjoyable read inspite of these interesting characteristics because of its utterly annoying main character Xinlas. This is not a knock on unlikeable characters, I like prefer stories with darker turns and unlikeable protagonists. However Xinlas as a character failed to hold my interest. His dealings with the other characters, his superiority complex as well as his arrogance. There’s also the fact he assaults a female character which supposedly helps him grow as a person. Now I’m not a reader who believes in absolutes. I believe an author should be able to explore any aspect that they want but then they should be able to explain as to why their characters behave as they do. This is where my enjoyment of the story fell apart, Xinlas absolutely comes across as jerk of the highest order and there’s no real reason given for his change. This is not to say that the author doesn’t present the case for Xinlas’ change of heart but honestly it didn’t come through as genuine enough for me.

There’s also the part about the people who have managed to stay hidden for so long who are peaceful beyond compare and also are truthful beyond fault. I failed to buy this aspect of the story, not saying that this can’t happen. But there’s not much of an explanation provided and that really hampered my read. Lastly the story pace is also something that perhaps could have been spruced up. More than two-thirds of the story, things are just tepid. Again in the end, this is my subjective opinion. I feel that I’m unduly trashing this story and that there might be better stories by Keith Ward. Unfortunately for me this one wasn’t to my taste at all.

CONCLUSION (ŁUKASZ)With its strong setting and interesting premises, The Anointed shows some promise. Unfortunately, parts of the book are monotonous, especially when it digs into the repetitive descriptions. It lacks strong chapter hooks that would make me feel the urge of page-turning hunger. 

SPFBO Final Score - 3/10



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