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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Middle Volume Mini-reviews: Rob J. Hayes' The Lessons Never Learned & David Dalglish's Ravencaller (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Soulkeeper
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Cloaks 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of A Dance Of Blades
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Mirrors 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of A Dance Of Shadows
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Cloak & Spider
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with David Dalglish 
Read Fantasy Book Critic cover art interview with David Dalglish
Read "Sequels And Satisfying Endings" by David Dalglish (guest post)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Ravencaller is the sequel to Soulkeeper and as far as middle volumes go, completely outshines its predecessor. In this fashion, it’s not surprising as a David Dalglish title but definitely a big surprise for a middle volume.

The story begins with the focus solely on the city of Londheim as its inhabitants face an upheaval of unimaginable proportions. We are quickly reunited with our POV characters Adria, Devin, Jacaranda and Tommy (along with a few other new POV characters). The book’s plot mainly deals with all of the different magical races that have slowly awakened and now wish to eradicate the grotesque children of the sisters i.e. the so-called feeble human race. This never bodes well as the humans decide to fight back and in such a type of genocidal fight there are no true victors. I believe David Dalglish amply demonstrates that and more in this middle volume.

Firstly let me clarify why this book was so good to read. Now just about anybody can write mindless and over-the-top action sequences. That’s not why this book is so good. Yes it has its share of action and magical battles. But this is where David Dalglish truly differentiates himself from everyone else in the dark fantasy genre. It’s his skill with characterization and dialogue which makes the action that much more realistic and endearing. David often explores the grey within the characters as in this fight nobody comes out with clean hands. While he expands all our POV characters who deal with the stress of this war in many different ways. He also provides us with three non-human POVs in Puffy, Cannac & Tesmarie who provide another view into these events and do a lot to lighten the atmosphere from time to time.

Let’s talk about the action sequences, in a book full of monsters and monster slayers. The action sequences are a key component and it’s one of Dalglish’s strengths how beautifully he strings them together. To old time fans of the author, this comes as no surprise considering what he showcased in the Half-Orcs and Shadowdance series. But to his credit, David is able to keep his action fresh and this is aided by the monstrous races that have come back. The action sequences are pretty cinematic in their scope and while they range from the personal to absolute bonkers. They are equally fun to read about.

Secondly the characterization is further elevated in this middle volume. As noted in my previous review, I really enjoyed Jacaranda, Tesmarie & Puffy’s characters and in this volume, basically everyone is boosted. Devin is no longer a goody two-shoes and we learn that humanity can be overrated while some of the supposed monsters just want to be alive and enjoy the world. We meet a new character by the name of Evelyn and she’s one tough badass. One of the major villains from Soulkeeper takes a backseat in this book but his presence is felt throughout the story. Dalglish’s characterization is top notch considering he gives a wide look in to the human and non-human characters while making each of them distinct. Even the villains aren’t just murderous savants, there’s a reason to what they want to accomplish. It’s not something we as the readers will agree with but it’s valid nonetheless and they can’t be written of just homicidal monsters (well not all of them).

The book’s pace is also breakneck and that heightens one’s read as we are constantly taken from one surprise to another. This book is also around 550-plus pages and so it’s to the author’s credit that none of them feel sluggish. Lastly I have to say that Ravencaller’s cover is absolutely spectacular. I wasn’t a fan of the Soulkeeper one which was a more than a bit staid IMO. Paul Scott Canavan absolutely nails the look of the Avenria and I hope he returns to draw the cover of Voidbreaker as well.

For me this book didn’t have any major issues, yes I would have liked some more backstory about the Sisters and how the world was shaped. I’m sure though it will be all forthcoming in the final volume. This book was a near perfect one in that regards and it’s only second volume.

CONCLUSION: Ravencaller proves why David Dalglish should never be underestimated. One of the pioneers of the self-publishing revolution, he proves himself to be a master of dark fantasy. Brimming with terrific characters, awesome action sequences & a magical world that’s on the brink of utter annihilation. Ravencaller definitely proves itself worthy to be called one of the best books of 2020 (So far).

Official Author Website
Order The Lessons Never Learned over HERE (USA) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Along The Razor's Edge
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Never Die
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of City Of Kings 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Where Loyalties Lie
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Fifth Empire Of Man
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Price Of Faith
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Catch A Sunrise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of It Takes A Thief To Start A Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Mini Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic trilogy completion interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Best Laid Plans Series Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's SPFBO Aftermath Q&A with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Post COK interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Never Die Release Interview with Rob J. Hayes
Read Fantasy Book Critic's The War Eternal Trilogy Release Interview
Read A Game of ̶T̶h̶r̶o̶n̶e̶s̶ Death by Rob J. Hayes (guest post)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: After the claustrophobic events of Along The Razor’s Edge, we get a much different story in The Lessons Never Learned. This second book from The War Eternal trilogy expands the world and background admirably so.

The story literally opens up where Along The Razor’s Edge ended. Eska and her remaining gang (Tamura, Hardt, and Yorin) have reached the surface. Eska can’t believe that her crazy sounding plan has finally paid off. However things aren’t easy as once outside they will be hunted by the Terralan empire as fugitives. Eska has a plan and now that she’s free of the claustrophobic confines of the pit, the sky’s the limit literally. However the only place safe for her and her mates is in the sky itself. The flying city of Roshan, controlled by the R’and. It’s the sole place where she can be free of the Terrelan Empire as there’s a special group of people hunting her as well.

The sequel is a book that takes a wide scope lens to the story so far. In book 1 we found out how Eska and Josef got captured, in this sequel we get a solid inkling of the why. As always Eska occupies front and center of the book’s plot as well as the reader’s attention. Eska as a character is still a bit abrasive but now she’s learning more about herself and what she underwent at the Orran academy. In this volume, we see Eska’s evolution from a singular focused sourceror into a person that will leave a mark on this world.

The previous book was all about the claustrophic nature of the surrounding and in this one we get an exact 180 as most of the plot is situated around the flying cities across this world. We also get to see how and why they were formed.

The world is founded on lie, upon lie, upon lie. But the truth is always there, just waiting for an opportunity to tear down everything we have built.”

The book’s main plot deals with the how and why of the magic system as well as the backstory of the world. This is what made this middle volume a better one than its predecessor. The author breaks down all the various stereotypes and falsehoods that have been perpetrated upon the human populace. We also get to see quite a lot of the non-human races and where they stand in the hierarchy of the world.

We are, all of us, marred by scars, plagued by the faults and insecurities laid upon us by our pasts.”

Once again the book is centered around Eskara Helsene and another narrator. Eska has come a long way from where and what she was in the previous volume. This book deals with her maturation in more ways then one. She gets to experience love, and also learns a lot about the fate of the Orran empire. Her mental and physical evolution are fun to watch as we see her internalize her anger and insecurities but also sharpen her zeal and power. Serrakis is there to provide backup whenever she needs and also to taste the fear that she evokes. I loved how the author managed to make Eskara a stronger character while still keeping her sharp edges. There’s also the other narrator and I loved how ambiguous that narrative thread was until the very end.

This book also doubles up on the magic and action sequences more so than its predecessor. There’s some terrific sequences in the end and it more than makes up for the lulls in between the action sequences. However there’s not a dull moment to be had, in between all of the story, we get to meet so many new characters as well see so many new locations that we as a reader as well as Eska are left spellbound. Rob J. Hayes does something truly incredible with the worldbuilding & magic system as in the first book we have no clue about what awaits in this volume. Lastly the ending is something that will make your head flip and leave you wanting the last volume pronto. So it’s a good thing that we are only 13 days away from its release.

CONCLUSION: The Lessons Never Learned is another spectacular volume in a trilogy that does the unexpected, breaks all conventions and makes its tough protagonist into a person that we can root for. Rob J. Hayes stretches his literary muscles in more ways than one and once more proves why he’s a self-publishing star that will rise higher and higher.



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