We all know that fantasy novels can be crazy intimidating, but the 1st in a series?
Good lord, man!
In my experience, they often run well over 400 pages, with the onslaught of new worlds, characters, cultures, and histories being incredibly overwhelming and can all too often take the story from being a fun break from our world to the most boring history class you could ever possibly imagine.
So when I first laid eyes on Spine Of The Dragon and saw what a monster this book was I was nervous as hell, man.
Just the footprint of it alone had me quaking in my boots, flipping through it and seeing the density had me near flop sweats.
But I accepted the challenge and started reading it.
Now, the eternal question when talking about books rises up to greet us, how did that go?
This is an advanced review, so I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but even so This is your official ***SPOILER WARNING***
Here at the top, I want to provide a quick glossary of terms so I don’t have to explain them later.
The Commonwealth – 1 of 2 eternally warring continents
Ishara – The other of the 2 eternally warring continents
Konag – The King of Kings on the Commonwealth
Empra – Queen of Ishara
Utauk – An unaligned group that are basically traveling salesman and barterers, free to go between the 2 continents
Brava – Half Wreth/Half Humans that carry a bracelet that bites into their arms and unleashes magical flame
Wreth – Ancient race that created humans, split into 2 factions centuries ago, and had a war that destroyed almost all magic on the Commonwealth
It went pretty well, in fact I read the 1st 100 or so pages in about 24 hours because it was so damn engaging.
But I have to be honest, I read THIS excerpt before getting this and I had another worry that I didn’t mention above.
A big wall I have always run into with Fantasy novels/stories is that the character names often seem too hokey. They’re either way over-thought or, sometimes even worse, under-baked, and in both cases there is no in-world explanation of how that name came about, which makes cringy names even worse.
So, in that sample I read the name King Adan Starfall and cringed hard.
When I got to the in-world explanation, all of that fell away.
Because the significance of it is that this King chose the name when he was a teenager.
This simple yet brilliant explanation that he chose it himself makes it work, because even if you don’t know the exact circumstances of what made him choose the name you can make the argument that it sounds like a name a young person would chose and stick with for many years…Scooby-Doom said with a wink to you, his lovely readers…
This is an impeccably well written story about a deeply thought out world full of easily likable & detestable characters that are equally interesting in the ways they need to be for it all to work and be satisfying.
And with no less than 14 storylines being juggled, that’s imperative.
The storylines we’re following throughout (and I know I’m definitely going to forget at least 1) include the 3 Kings of the Commonwealth continent, the Konag of the Commonwealth, the 2 leaders of the ancient and reemerging Wreth clans, a young Utauk girl, an Utauk merchant leader, a Brava captain that’s advisor to the Konag, a woman former Brava with a dark past, Empra of Ishara, an Isharan priest, and a traveling girl whose only mission is to learn as much as she possible can.
That is a hell of a lot of story to keep track of and he never once disappoints.
The only real issue I can point out with the writing would be that it’s difficult to gauge the passage of time.
At a few points in this story, through narration or dialogue somebody will say things like “it’s hard to believe how much has changed in the 2 week since the Wreths reemerged.” and I had a moment of “shit, it’s been that long since that happened!?” that I feel could be smoothed out a little more with dates at the start of chapters or slightly more dialogue to drill the point home.
One of the things that I love most about Kevin J. Anderson’s books will always be that he writes short chapters.
That makes it far easier to keep all of the many parts of the story moving forward, it keeps you from getting bored with a particular character or group of characters because you never spend 30+ pages with one POV wishing to learn more about the other corners of a world, and it also leads me to devour his work faster.
When reading his books, I never get stuck in the middle of a chapter and have to reread the last paragraph to remember where I was.
It’s a small style choice that I don’t know if he does intentionally or not, but it’s always appreciated nonetheless.
To wrap up, this is a hell of a kick-off to a new series by a masterful storyteller and world builder, gang.
It’s a tale of friendships and betrayals, old enemies and new allies, and a world on the brink of a war that the leaders do not want but may be forced in to by the machinations and posturing of others who have axes they can’t stop themselves from grinding.
Also, it has maps, and maps in books will never not be great!
And now the long wait begins for the next installment.
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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.