Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Books: "The Path of Flames" and "Kingdom of Denall: The Troven"

As I wait for any of my favorite fantasy authors to find it in their schedules to release another book, I've had to turn to other avenues for my entertainment.

Yes, I've let Amazon guide me with their suggestions.

Two of the suggestions I have burned through were: "The Path of Flames" by Phil Tucker and "Kingdom of Denall: The Troven" by Eric Buffington.

The Path of Flames

Set in a strange, magical empire led by some kind of holy supermen called "Virtues", Tucker's "The Path of Flames" tells the stories of Asho the slave-turned-squire-turned-knight and Lady Kethe, the daughter of a great knight of the Ascendant Empire.

The story starts off interestingly-enough. Asho, a member of the slave-class Bythians, has been elevated to be a squire in defiance of tradition. For all that, the man who elevated Asho is an utter and complete asshole who wants Asho to fail horribly.

Then there's a battle in which dark, heretical magic is used to slaughter the army Asho stands with, leaving Asho one of the few survivors. For his part in the battle, Asho is knighted by one of the Virtues then returns to his lord's keep to tell of his lord's death and try to become a knight.

Then things get worse.

Meanwhile, Lady Kethe has decided she's not really into dresses, knitting, and "lady-like" endeavors. She wants to become a knight herself. So she's gotten a sword made and is learning to use it.

And she's kind of a badass. Oh, and apparently has some kind of ancestral magic.

So, yeah. Things got worse as things do. Villains do schemes and the next thing you know, our heroes and various associated heroes wind up in some ready-to-collapse keep in the middle of nowhere through one of the magic Gates that the Ascendant Empire uses.

Oh, and the keep is cursed. Anyone who is there for too long vanishes.

But our heroes have worse problems.

Yeah, I think I'll stop there on the plot specifics. Phil Tucker's story is certainly interesting. The world he's created for his Ascendant Empire is fascinating. He's got a very clear caste-system in place, an interesting religious structure, and an intriguing magic system. As the heroes stumble across ancient records, you can quickly see where the lies are set to prop up the power structure of the Ascendant Empire.

That's the good stuff.

From there, I have to say I wasn't especially taken-in by any of the characters in "The Path of Flames". Kethe was probably the most interesting, followed by one of the other knights. Everyone else was pretty cliche and cardboard-cutout. The villains were over-the-top. The heroes were largely hard to sympathize with. I especially found Asho to be disappointingly-whiny. When he starts to come into his own, the other problem emerges in the story. The magic used in the world is really not described very well. I had a hard time tracking WTF was going on at the end there. Or maybe my eyes just glazed over. Hard to say.

Overall, "Path of Flames" was okay. I'm not sure I'll hunt down the sequel. I'll have to think on it. I'm really intrigued to learn more of his world history but I really can't find myself giving two shits about the main characters at all.

Kingdom of Denall: The Troven

Yeah. Try saying that title three times fast.

Eric Buffington's coming-of-age story tells of four boys who undergo a rite of passage from their village known as "the Troven". When undertaking the Troven, boys of 18 or so (apparently women don't have to do this) have to live a year out in the world before they can come home and be considered men.

"The Troven" tells the story of four of these boys: Kaz, Garin, Farin, and Bendar as they set out on their Troven.

Let me back up a bit. It seems people who are born in the Kingdom of Denall (where these lads are from) are all born with some kind of magical gift. Exceptional sight, exceptional hearing, exceptional sense of smell, exceptional strength, super magic casting powers, you get the picture. These gifts get "levels". Level one is weak and barely worth nothing. Level four is impressive. Level five is seriously badass.

Young Kaz is born with the gift of sight, which manifests as four little dots around his eyes when he employs his magical ability. He's also an archer of uncommon skill. Like Robin Hood good.

Yes. When you use your ability, little dots appear indicating how strong you are (your "level") and what you can do.

Garin and his twin brother Farin have the gift of hearing, at a lesser strength than Kaz. Garin is a farm boy who just wants to finish his Troven then go home and marry his sweetheart. Farin wants to learn the sword and become a soldier for the king.
Bendar has the gift of intellect and is a bit "on the spectrum" in his interpersonal skills. He wants to go off to a university and learn all the things involving a terrible prophesy known as "The Changing" (dun-dun-DUN!!!!).

Our four lads decide to collaborate to survive their Troven.

Then things go wrong. Bandits. Wild animals. Crazed magic-hunters. You-name-it.

You see, while our hapless lads are wandering about, the magician Dune is trying to stop the mysterious Stone Seekers from finding the Stones of Power.

Yes, these magical MacGuffins can do things. There's a Stone of Sight, a Stone of Hearing, a Stone of Magic, and so on. And they call to people because maaaaaagic. That's what these things do, y'know.

Next thing you know, our four boys find themselves inadvertently caught up in schemes around the Stones of Power.

Because, of course, one of these lads is "chosen" and falls into possession of one of the Stones.

Yeah. Enough plot summary.

So, my thoughts: Buffington's story reads like a young adult novel in many ways. I really ought to go back and look if it's rated as such. I found the writing a bit uneven in parts. There was a lot of "the four boys on their Troven have gone here, done this minutae, and this happened" sort of stuff. Jarringly, he suddenly shifts in the next chapter to completely different characters who are doing completely different things that, I assume, will all come together in some future book.

Characters that appear important drop in seemingly at random with jarring introductions, then vanish again. The villains were largely cliche and fairly uninteresting. Some of the plot threads seemed to go off in really weird directions that make me wonder if this entire book was based on a role-playing campaign of some sort.

It's certainly got a role-playing feel to it.

For all that, I have to say I enjoyed the book. The main character, Kaz, was likeable-enough.

I assume this is Buffington's first offering and he'll only improve from here.

I think I'll pick up the sequel when it comes out, if only to see where he's going with this.

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