Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Fire, as it's known in John Brown's debut novel, Servant of a Dark God, is the substance that makes up the days of a person's life and it can be bought and sold to another person to increase stamina and strength. The only people who are allowed to harvest the fire are known as Divines, and they rule the land. But there are those who steal fire from humans and animals alike, known as Sleth, who become twisted by the power they draw. Talen is a young clansmen just growing into adulthood when rumors of Sleth throw his world into turmoil. Tensions between clans only get worse when the clans decide to muster a hunt for "soul eaters" and Talen's family becomes a target of suspicion. What Talen doesn't know is that not everyone is content to leave the power in the hands of the Divines and trusted friends and family have been using the forbidden arts. And a dark power is growing in the valley; animating a dark creature that seeks the fire it sees burning brightly in Talen. John Brown's "Servant of a Dark God" is a surprisingly complex debut novel. First, the story follows several viewpoints, from that of Talen, his cousin Nettle, his older sister River, his father Hogan and his uncle Argoth. Each person is integral to the story and each time we read their differing viewpoints a little piece of puzzle is filled in. Brown's writing style is likable and assured. The beginning chapter establishes Talen's character through a humorous incident that has the siblings squabbling over a stolen pair of pants. Then the narrative smoothly transitions to the rising conflict between clans and the accusations of "slethery" that begin running rampant through the territory. The only time "Servant of a Dark God" falters is when Brown gets mired down in the descriptions of the magic system of the story. The idea of magic being hoarded and jealously guarded by the powerful isn't a new idea but Brown generally does a good job of establishing a unique world and system of magic. The problem is that, at times, the explanations are overly complex and I found myself pulled out of the story as I attempted to work it all out, and it seemed unnecessary. The characters are generally very good. Talen has his moments of seeming unusually obtuse, but that's not unrealistic for a young man on the verge of adulthood who has seen all his preconceptions thrown aside rather abruptly. And I especially like the villains of the story. The creature that is the main source of dread through the early part of the book is more of a tragic figure, one we can pity, even as we hope he doesn't catch up to our heroes. I've read my fair share of series' debuts this year and "Servant of a Dark God" is one of the better ones. I do wish there had been less of an info-dump feel to some of the chapters but I am optimistic that now that the foundation has been laid, the story may have a smoother feel going forward. And, like most good books, the characters are the thing, and they are done very well. I'll definitely be reading the sequel and if I had to make a prediction, I'd say John Brown is the name of a fantasy author we'll be hearing about for a long time to come.