Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review of Terry Mancour's Spellmonger

I've decided to start reading, and reviewing, some of the novels available on Amazon.com's Kindle Lending Library.  This allows Amazon Prime members to read some books (one per month) for free on their Kindles.  The catch is that a lot--probably most--of these books are self-published e-books, using Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing.  That's sort of the reason I'm doing this.  Anyone can self-publish a book, and most of them are junk.  That said, 90% of anything is junk, so while there may be a lot of bad, self-published novels on Amazon, there are bound to be some good ones.  And as long as Amazon is letting me read one free once a month, I might as well take a chance on some of them.

First up is Terry Mancour's Spellmonger.  Now with this one, I may not be taking that much of a chance.  It's #7,325 in paid Kindle e-books, and has over 50 reviews, with an average rating of four stars (and while it's possible for self-published authors to game the review system, most of them seem fair, rather than the undeserved gushing of friends and relatives).  Additionally, Mr. Mancour has already published a novel (Star Trek The Next Generation: Spartacus).  So, I may be taking a chance, but not that much of one.

The first thing you notice about the novel, aside from the simple but functional cover, is the hand drawn and less functional map at the beginning.  I puzzled over this a bit, but I usually don't spend much time looking at the maps in e-books, so it was hardly a deal-breaker.  So I went straight to the opening scene.

The novel is high fantasy, with a noir voice.  The cynical, sarcastic first-person POV adds a lot of humor to the story, and it gave the novel a lot of its flavor.  The story started where most epic fantasies start: a small, rural community.  And the novel opens with a bang, with invading goblins gurvani attempting to burn the place to the ground.  At which point Minalan, the titular spellmonger, and former warmage, comes to the rescue.  It's a good opening, introducing the main character, his apprentice, and a bunch of villagers whom we instantly forget about.  Soon the lord of the valley arrives and the main plot begins.

The gurvani are coming by the thousands, armed with magic-enhancing Irionite, and the people must prepare for a siege: gathering allies and moving into the lord's castle.  Meanwhile, Minalan tells us about his life and background, weaving his backstory into the narrative. Unlike most novels of this type, the ally-gathering happens fairly quickly, and most of the novel is spent on the siege, and the clever ways Minalan and his allies use magic in order to escape complete destruction.  And it really is about how the magic is used--fairly little is done by the mundane folks.

That's one of the great weaknesses of this novel--all the important stuff is done by Minalan and a couple of his allies, all magic users.  Nothing of import is done by any of the mundanes.  They're mostly cannon-fodder and obstacles to overcome.  And there are some characters who seem like they'd have a lot to contribute, especially the mercenary leaders, but I can't remember anything of note they did outside of support for the magic types.

Another weakness is the half-hearted characterization.  There's a cast of hundreds, if not thousands, but most of them aren't important, and because they aren't, Mancour doesn't bother giving them more than a cursory introduction.  The three apprentices of the competitor spellmonger aren't even given names until just before their critical scene.  The main love interest shows up twice before the two stumble into a relationship, without any build-up to make us believe that they are actually in love.  The ruler of the rural valley goes from wise and good to petty and vain to sort of redeemed without much in the way of transition.

And for all that Minalan is the main character, he's not really that likable.  He's something of a lecher, so much so that it's hard to believe that he's decided to settle down when he does, and he has a prickly personality. He antagonizes the lord of the valley and his fellow spellmonger, but apparently they deserve it, since they're awful people--which we know because he tells us, not because of how they behave on-stage.

But for all its faults, Spellmonger still works.  It's well-written, and the presentation is professional.  The story is interesting, and the pieces come together in the end, with only a couple of plot holes.  Overall, it was worth the time to read--and really, I measure value more by the time than the money.

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