Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review: Sword in the Stars, Part 1

I finished Sword in the Stars a few days ago!  Here are my thoughts on the book, more or less in the order they came to me while I was reading it... since I have so much to say, I'm going to split it into two parts, so it's not so overwhelming!

About the book...
Title: Sword in the Stars
Author: Wayne Thomas Batson
Series: The Dark Sea Annals
Genre:  Fantasy

My thoughts...

* It has a good opening chapter.  The very first sentence grabs your attention: "Alastair Coldhollow tried to wipe the blood from his hands but failed."  The rest of the chapter introduces mystery and intrigue that instantly makes you interested in the story.

* Myriad, the fantasy world of the book, seems to be a well-developed world.  There is diversity among the different races and people groups.  There are bits of literature and history that start off every chapter.  (I especially liked the "Books of Lore"; the equivalent of the Bible in their world.)  There is a developed geography.  (Although, I found the geography a little -- just a little -- hard to visualize without a map.)  Batson also created a complete dating system for the world, and even a speech dialect!  It feels like you could just step into "Myriad", as if it were a real place.

* I found it interesting how the book deals with the Alastair's (the main protagonist's) past.  It is a mystery at first that you have to discover as you read.  This aspect of the story reminded me of Behold the Dawn (click here to see my review for that book).

* One thing I didn't like:  "Gorracks", one of the creatures/races of the story, looked too much like "orcs" to me (especially since they played a similar role in the story that orcs play in Lord of the Rings).  It seemed like the word "orcs" with a bunch of letters added in.  Maybe other people wouldn't make that association, but I did.

* The characters in this book are the best characters Batson has ever made.  I felt like the characters in The Door Within, Isle of Swords, and Isle of Fire were a little bit flat, but these characters were entirely dynamic and three-dimensional.  My favorites were probably King Aravel and Alastair.  When I heard (or rather, read) their names, an entire image and personality came instantly to mind; almost like with real people.  I found myself COMPLETELY, ENTIRELY drawn in to these characters; sitting on the edge of my seat to see what would happen to them, and watching with total suspense and intrigue as some of them revealed certain dark secrets (you'd have to read the book to know what I'm talking about).  I was glued to the story; grabbed by the throat, and it would not let me go... the reason, though, was because of the characters... much, much more so than the plot.

* Although... (this is in continuation of the last point), I would have to say that it took until I was about 1/3 of the way through the book before it really grabbed me, and it got really good.  You've got to get through the first third of the book... just trust me.  Just read through 1/3 of it, and if you're not hooked by then, well... that's probably not going to happen, so I'll leave it at that.  =)

Original 3D art by Wayne Thomas Batson: Shepherd Hollow, from the Dark Sea Annals

* About 1/4 of the way through the book, King Morlan (the antagonist) did not feel very scary to me.  He was not an exceptionally convincing villain yet.  But then, about 1/3 of the way through, this changes entirely.  He has an encounter with "Sabryne", the source of ultimate evil in this story (seems to be the equivalent of Satan), and King Morlan becomes a different person.  The evil in the book (which also includes Cythraul, another villain who I thought was creepier than Morlan) gets really creepy, even violently disturbing.  Sabryne, Morlan, and Cythraul are very "Batson-style" bad-guys, reminding me of Batson's other great villains: Paragor from The Door Within and Bartholomew Thorne from Isle of Swords/Fire.  In fact, the evil in Sword in the Stars was possibly the most disturbing out of all Batson's books so far.

* Batson uses some familiar fantasy creatures (like dragons), but he also creates a lot of his own.  Some of them are based off of familiar fantasy creatures, (the Willowfolk, for an example, are a lot like fairies), and others are completely of his own making.  It creates a somewhat fresh feel to the familiar genre.

* I ABSOLUTELY LOVE the theme of redemption in this story!  The way he deals with redemption is immensely, profoundly powerful.  It's worth reading the whole book just for this.

* The book is very imaginative.  Batson sure has quite an imagination.  =)  I found it inspiring, too... especially the way he developed his characters... it inspired me with my own fantasy story.  (I intend to begin writing my fantasy story after I finish my futuristic novel.)

* I think this is the first time we're seeing Batson's own, unique fantasy writing style really develop.  With The Door Within Trilogy, he was writing his very first books; just starting his writing career, or just putting his foot in the water, if you will.  With the pirate books, he was developing his craft some more; but they weren't actually fantasy.  Then, he wrote the Berinfell Prophecies with Christopher Hopper, and developed his craft a little more; but the books weren't completely his own, unique works.  Now, with The Dark Sea Annals,and he is finally writing his own, unique fantasy stories.  While I was reading the book, I couldn't really say, "This is Tolkienesque," or "This is very Lewis," or "This is very any-other-author;" all I could say was, "This is Wayne Thomas Batson."  I feel like in this book, he's showing us his real, true fantasy style for the first time.  (Not that The Door Within Trilogy was not Batson's real fantasy style; it just wasn't as developed yet, I don't think.)

* There's some fun symbolism and foreshadowing throughout the book that literature people would like.  (I expect that is caused, at least in part, by the fact that Batson is an English teacher...)

That's all for now... I'll tell you the rest of my thoughts later!