Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: Servant of a Dark God by John Brown

Young Talen lives in a world where the days of a person’s life can be harvested, bought, and stolen. Only the great Divines, who rule every land, and the human soul-eaters, dark ones who steal from man and beast and become twisted by their polluted draws, know the secrets of this power. This land’s Divine has gone missing and soul-eaters are found among Talen’s people. The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Thinking his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has far larger problems. A being of awesome power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of man. Her Mothers once ranched human subjects like cattle. She has emerged to take back what is rightfully hers. Trapped in a web of lies and ancient secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform into the lord of the human harvest. In a nutshell, Servant of a Dark God is both new and old. I was not unfamiliar with the tropes, the situations, the characters. However, there is a certain sense of fresh wonder, an uncharted perimeter, which I as a reader long for, while experiencing a pleasurable déjà vu. Servant of a Dark God surprises with well controlled simplicity over prose and plot. Brown discards the need for mystery and relies on misunderstandings to create conflict and build tension. It’s why I am unwilling to discuss the plot. I feel I will mention too many spoilers. Precisely why, I’ll be reviewing this in a roundabout way. Servant of a Dark God opens in a small village, newly occupied by the Mokadian Empire, but the novel stays at the same location, proving that epic fantasy doesn’t require an epic quest for a complex, action-packed plot. Here Brown builds upon mounting racial hatred between the Mokadians and the Koramites [the conquerors and the conquered, respectively], which then escalates to witch hunts. The Koramites are not defenseless and make plans to overthrow the empire’s regime over the colony. In the mean time however an independent master plan is set in motion and with all these elements I was never bored. Brown’s narrative is simple, yet strong and individual out for every single character POV. What’s commendable here is Brown’s decision to leave blind spots in the story, often pivotal moments, which are skipped only to be revealed through someone else’s narrative. It’s smart, because it spikes the adrenaline [kept me reading] and because it eliminates repetition, in case other characters need to be brought up to speed. Speaking of narratives makes it unavoidable to say a few things about the cast. Here, I’m afraid I’ll speak in generalizations, since I didn’t find any of his characters lacking realism. All come with strengths and weaknesses. I also think that a work, in which I can’t side with any of the main protagonists, because each has a valid set of reasons to act the way they do, speaks for itself. Servant of a Dark God has managed to avoid the Chosen One routine by smacking residential smart-ass Talen in the middle of an uprising and a secret resistance, which is a far more likely scenario given that the Koramites’ oppression. Kudos also goes to the solid amount of daily routines, which add depth to the world and the societies inhabiting it. This way I didn’t get the all too intimate been-there-read-that feeling. Last, but not least, the worldbuilding is surprisingly simple in theory. The concept of the fire, body and soul lacks intricacy as say some complex magic systems, but offers a wide range of applications and interpretations. It’s also very interesting how the clergy reminds me of the Catholic Church. There are many ranks. The clergymen behave as if they are part of the ruling cast and well, heresy is widely used as an excuse to murder people. The soul-eaters are not the monsters the clergy has scared people with, but an alternative to how the magic is used. To be honest, the planned revolution reminds me of the reformation in the English Church, but that may very well be an aftertaste from watching The Tudors. All in all, I think this is a well-plotted and structured debut, which holds the attention. I’m not a wild fan of the minimalist prose, but Servant of a Dark God makes good use of humor, action, intrigue, mischief and trust issues.


SQT said...

I enjoyed this one (did a review of it awhile back) and thought it was a very strong debut. I don't know when the sequel will come out (there isn't a listing on Amazon yet) but I'll read it when it comes out.

Harry Markov said...

2011... I checked the author's site and that's the date. A long, long time, but hopefully it will be THE awesome.