Saturday, November 13, 2010
Review: Conqueror's Shadow
About two decades ago, Corvis Rebaine, the Terror of the East, damn near conquered the country of Imphallion. He did everything right. He enlisted the help of the mighty Ogres, purchased the skills of thousands of mercenaries, harnessed powerful magics to aid his quest, and through skill, smarts, and ample use of scare tactics, had easily crushed most of his opposition. However, on the brink of ultimate victory, Rebaine gave it all up, and fled into obscurity with Tyannon, a noblewoman he took captive to assure his escape.
Now Rebaine is a simple farmer and family man, married to the girl he once took captive. He seems happy too, having shed himself of his former visions of glory and grandeur. If he had things his way, he'd simply carry on living the farm life, but too bad for Rebaine, the real world intervenes on his cute little pastoral existence, and shakes things up.
The political events of Imphallion have been more or less steady since Rebaine was last seen, but a new threat has arrived, and it has a familiar feel. Audriss, also known as the Serpent, has set out on the path of conquering Imphallion, and he's doing it exactly like Rebaine did seventeen years ago. When assassins hired by Audriss try to capture and kill Rebaine's daughter, Rebaine decides it is time for the Terror of the East to ride again, and deal with this new threat.
There is something almost comforting about reading The Conqueror's Shadow. This book manages to merge two popular fantasy styles into one...a gritty, quest-style fantasy if you will. A comforting, well known and well liked, sub-genre mixed with some grit to get those adult readers excited. Hey, it got me to buy the book. The author, Ari Marmell, did a pretty good job of it too, telling a captivating story filled with interesting characters, but there were some flaws that took away from my overall enjoyment.
The main character, Corvis Rebaine was hit or miss for me. I had a hard time accepting the contrast of young Corvis the brutal, no mercy conqueror to that of the old Corvis, the gentle loving family man. Marmell fills in certain details, and fleshes out characters in flashback scenes, and through those we learn of Rebaine's past exploits. From these flashbacks I learned that Rebaine was one uncompromising son of a gun who would do anything, including killing innocent women and children, all to achieve his aims of glory. Then, when I eventually found out Rebaine's reason for abandoning his quest for conquering, it didn't seem to fit with his style of how he got to that point. I get that Marmell was trying to make Rebaine seem very flawed and conflicted, but he was oftentimes so contradictory that it was annoying.
I think the problems I had with Rebaine also led to me not being even remotely convinced by his love story with his once captive, Tyannon. A convincing love story isn't necessary for my enjoyment of a novel, but in this case it just didn't work for me at all.
My biggest gripe with The Conqueror's Shadow is the excessive use of sarcasm. Now I am a fan of the lighter touches in otherwise serious stories. I think humor can really add to a story and help break up the serious moments and add another thread to the tapestry. However, Marmell took things a touch too far. The problem was that everyone, by everyone I mean nearly every character in the story, was overly sarcastic nearly all the time. It wasn't just one character that had a sarcastic streak, it was everyone, the ogre, the witch, the wife, the kids, the bad guy, shit, even the demon was sarcastic, and that sarcasm was a defining character trait of them all. It really was too much, and it made the dialog annoying to read after awhile.
Despite the flaws, there were a couple of things that I did like. Warning: it is about to get dorky in here.
First off is the Kolben Shiar blades. Sure, they are kinda your basic magical weaponry; Super sharp! Impossible to break! Enhanced with runes! But there was a cool twist: they shape shifted into the ideal weapon for whoever was holding it. So Rebaine's Kolben Shiar blade was a mighty axe, while Audriss' blade was a dagger.
I was also impressed by the fact that Marmell was not afraid to bust out the POWER CRYSTALS! I'll admit, I am a sucker for power crystals. These ones had demons trapped in them and the demons gave the power crystal owner magical powers! Ok, so that is kinda generic, but I liked that it added an extra element to a couple of the characters.
Unfortunately, the flaws far outweighed the positives, and my enjoyment suffered for them. I think Marmell has ample room for improvement, but that the foundations for a strong career are there. He has a knack for telling a good story, but just needs certain other elements to come up to that level. The Conqueror's Shadow is a decent debut, but weak in too many areas for me to fully enjoy.