Well, the end is nigh, the final reviews are rolling out, and soon we'll know the winner of Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. It's been an interesting experience, and I'm as curious as anybody to see who comes out on top, but before we get there . . . I have a final pair of reviews to share.
I really expected to enjoy Priest more than I did. Based on everything I'd read about it, I just thought Matthew Colville and I would click a little better. It's a serviceable tale, and there were some moments that made me smile, but overall it just left me with a feeling of strained deja vu rather than genuine nostalgia.
The biggest issue for me comes down to Heden, the titular priest. I just didn't like the guy. He didn't engage me, didn't appeal to me, and didn't inspire me as a protagonist to follow. I gave him every benefit of the doubt, but we just never clicked. It didn't help that he seemed to discover himself at just the right time, and that his power was so over-the-top, it drained his quest of all tension.
In terms of narrative, I've seen some people complain about its episodic nature, but I had no issues with that. In fact, I suspect it made for a better read. There was some strong dialogue at times, and some of the monsters/villains were painted upon the page very well. Ultimately, though, it was more hard boiled detective novel than epic fantasy, with a priest/gumshoe who didn't quite do it for me.
Kindle Edition, 370 pages
At just over 200 pages, The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids is the perfect length for a revenge-driven sword-and-sorcery tale. It's just long enough to tell its tale, but not so long that it overstays it welcome. Like the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser adventures of the 70s, Amra gets in, gets good, and then gets on her way with both charm and wit, before scurrying away with sarcasm and cynicism intact.
Packed into those 200 pages is some great character building - Amra, Holgren, Kluge, and Bosch especially - and some solid world building. Michael McClung doesn't waste a lot of time setting the scene or building up the grandeur of Lucernis, but manages to establish it all through actions, observations, and conversations along the way. I came away from this with a fantastic grasp on the geography, the history, and the politics of the town, and I understood exactly how everyone fit in.
This is a fast-paced tale with its moments of both magic and violence, starring a young woman who is very much your typical rogue - a foul-mouthed, rather plain, tomboy with a strong moral center. She's not a hero, but she's also not a victim. Amra is her own person, and with the help of Holgren, she's determine to do what needs doing, no matter what the larger cost may be. On that note, there are big stakes here, but not too big for the story McClung has established. I was growing a bit concerned at one point, as more characters came in and more plots became apparent, but every city has its share of stories, and ignoring that would have made this a one-dimensional tale.
Kindle Edition, 210 pages
Published November 28th 2012 by Michael McClung