So I thought I’d give myself a bit of a break after smashing through Writers of the Future Vol. 39 in…barely over a week. Relax, take a Tuesday off the schedule, sleep a little, stare into space.
This is C.A. Doehrmann’s fault, by the way, although she doesn’t know it yet.
Why? Because this lovely lady had the audacity to put one of her books up on Smashwords for free this week, setting off an irreversible chain of events:
- bookmarkedone discovering Smashwords (very dangerous, so many shiny books)
- nabbing Prince of the Fallen Kingdom
- thinking about Prince of the Fallen Kingdom while writing reviews
- opening book “just to relax”
- devouring said book in slightly over 24 hours
- Now We Must Talk About It/bookmarkedone is not getting her little break anytime soon
Really. The nerve of some people, waving free books under my nose. As if they don’t know I’ll drop everything in an alarming crash of shattered porcelain to follow them down any dark alleyway/troll tunnel/Hero’s Journey they choose, whilst ignoring every other responsibility in the world.
Book: Prince of the Fallen Kingdom, by C. A. Doehrmann
Series: Arc Legends of Ellunon, No. 2
Genre: YA High Fantasy (Sword and Sorcery/angels?)
Content for the Sensitive Reader:
Magic, battle sequences, mild flirting, some violent imagery, tensions between cultures, bloodshed, scars, monsters, 1 slightly graphic character death. Appropriate for a wide audience.
SPOILER WARNING: this book is a sequel and review may contain spoilers for Book 1, The Kingmaster! You’ve been warned!
(flaps sweater sleeves ominously in your direction)
All the people gone that ought to be?
Okay. Let’s get on with it.
So in case you missed my review of the first Ellunon book, let me catch you up.
Wholesome Boy teams up with Veteran Warrior Dude and Healer Princess to save the world from Mr. Ominous who keeps stabbing everyone with black mind-control darts. They run in circles a bit. Lives are at stake. There are not enough sandwiches.
Wholesome Boy and Healer Princess are continuing the quest of Book 1…without Warrior Dude. They walk a lot. A new Mr. Ominous is in town, but this time with a side of Tantalizing Backstory. There are swords. Lots of stabbing. Still not enough sandwiches.
Let me explain.
Kyen of Avanna is our hero…sort of.
It probably shouldn’t delight me as much as it does that Doehrmann makes the mythic hero of the world and awkward gangly boy who just wants to eat sandwiches and not be bothered by anybody.
Delight me it does. Very much.
Kyen is one of those “you have never done anything wrong in your life, and I love you, shh, don’t start giving yourself a guilt complex, this is not negotiable,” characters.
He’s a master swordsman. He’s faultlessly polite. He has a past and he Does Not Talk about it. I should not be nearly as invested as I am in the moments when he almost doesn’t get to eat. The major battles? Great, very interesting. Someone coming between Kyen and bread? I am here and I am angry.
Okay, not that angry. You get the point.
And even though Kyen is a wandering loner…
He’s still tromping over hill and dale with Princess Adeya of Isea, who kidnapped herself into his company at the end of Book 1.
IF you read the review of the first book, you know I have…difficulties with Adeya.
Most of these fall into the category of her being really inexperienced and young–and thus the damsel in distress of the group.
Well, this time she’s still young. She shouts and cries and pleads and generally shows way more emotion than all the other characters (especially “slightly dazed, hm? Yes, I’m listening” Kyen). When things get scary, a lot of the time, she needs help.
But she’s learning.
Book 2 Adeya is way better than Book 1 Adeya. Yes, she’s still inexperienced, but she is putting herself firmly in the path of those who can teach her. She’s learned a lot, and she’s aware of how much she still doesn’t know. Yes, there are moments when the “pampered princess,” comes to light, but there are also moments when Adeya stamps her foot and demands to be respected…and it works. Nothing gets her down. Sure, she might cry for a bit, but she’s so relentlessly, cheerfully stubborn–
It’s delightful. She doesn’t get embarrassed when she doesn’t know things. She just says, “I can learn.” And that’s tremendous.
There are so many things that we don’t know, and I think a lot of us become afraid to ask as we get older. We don’t want to use that new word we learned because we’re afraid we’ll say it wrong, we don’t want to ask what that friend is talking about, because what if everyone knows it? We’re afraid of looking stupid.
Adeya isn’t. And I love that about her.
And you know, it’s nice to have a character who isn’t afraid to feel things, either. Don’t get me wrong, I love the reserved, brooding types. But Adeya is so open, whether it’s sunshine or tears–
When you have a book full of characters who don’t feel they have the luxury to cry, it’s sometimes refreshing to see someone who does.
And as for her being the “damsel in distress?”
Well, it’s true. Almost everyone in the book knows more about self-defense than Adeya, who picked up a broadsword for the first time in Book 1. So it’s more a juxtaposition issue–she’s going to look clumsy because everyone around her is so flawlessly skilled. Sometimes she needs help so she doesn’t wind up skewered on a sword. But at other times, she’s putting herself out there, facing the fight along with warriors far more experienced.
And that is something we call brave.
Which gives me a perfect opportunity to talk about the fight scenes.
Fight scenes are infamously hard to write. So, so tricky. If you don’t describe what’s happening, the reader is just going to be confused as to who won and why. If you describe every blow like a sports commentator, the reader is going to be bored to tears and probably confused by technical jargon.
Doehrmann does neither.
Sure, there are some moments where it’s a little confusing, where it could be clearer, shorter, etc. But for the most part?
She does something, very, very clever.
She not only splits her fights into one-on-one duels and Epic Battle Sequences, but she changes the style based on who is fighting.
Adeya fighting a bully with an overblown sense of confidence? It’s nothing short of a schoolyard brawl, hair pulling, punching, emotions flaring out of control. It works because it fits the characters. Adeya doesn’t know what she’s doing, so she’s not going to be technically flawless. She has one move and she does it very well.
When Kyen is holding a sword? Totally different situation. It’s gorgeous because it gives you insight into their characters, personalities, and experiences, while keeping the scenes varied.
But I do have a little complaint about the swordplay…
Besides, you know, occasionally putting blades away without cleaning the blood off.
Adeya asks to learn a certain move, and is told that it’s too advanced. Adeya, being Adeya, tries it anyway, and eventually persuades her teacher that she can learn it, and does.
While it’s a great scene, and it shows a lot of character not only at that moment, but every time after when Adeya performs that particular maneuver–I have some reservations.
Vibrato. the reason is vibrato.
Hang on, because it’s going to seem like I’m diving way off topic.
Vibrato is this thing we do in violin (and voice, and many other instruments) that wavers the pitch, just slightly, to create a pretty effect, instead of just a flat, unchanging note. Only thing is, with a violin, we don’t have frets like, say, a guitar does. You don’t want to be playing around with pitch if you don’t have a sense of where “home” is.
In other words, if you’re a student who’s just learning and hasn’t burned A 440 and a few other key pitches deep into the recesses of the squishy flesh residing inside your skull.
Vibrato is not even whispered about in early violin classes.
Oh, students want to learn it, even when they don’t know what it is. It really changes the tone, and young musicians can hear that. But they’re told, unequivocally, no.
Until you are grounded in your sense of pitch, you’re not ready.
So when I hear Adeya ask to learn something complicated and be told no…I’m thinking of watching someone try to vibrato and completely lose their tonal center and any sense of music at all.
It bugs me. A little bit. If you’re not ready for something, you’re not ready, and no matter of assertiveness is going to make up for time and patience and lots and lots of practice. Even if you know how something works in your mind, getting your body to follow those instructions sometimes takes much longer than it feels like it should.
I digress. Clearly.
I’m not sure it’s stated how long Adeya has been studying or how long she trains before she learns her One Signature Move…it could be reasonable. I’m being picky. As I do.
Shall we get back to the story?
Right. Where were we? Kyen and Adaya, off to save the world.
Or…Kyen and Adaya, about to get clobbered by fiends, destroy a village, and plunge headfirst into the backstory of Kyen of Avanna that we didn’t know we needed.
You think when you start the book, that it’s going to be exactly the same as the first one–Kyen and Adaya on the run from various fiends and Mr. Ominous with a black weapon.
There’s a more fiendish fiend. Not only does it want to eat you to add to its shadow-shape, anything it touches will be infected with its oozy shadow-self.
Yeah. Definitely did not have that in the last book. And a fight with something that you can’t let touch you? That’s a bit more scary than just avoiding a mouth full of teeth.
And instead of a vague Mr. Ominous in the shadows, our villain has a name. And a face. and a backstory. And a complaint to file with the greater People of his Homeland, thank you very much.
Are you getting the idea that I like this book yet?
I’m going to cut the chase. I kind of loved it.
And that’s rare for a self-published/indie book, because usually I’m gritting my teeth over how glorious it could have been with just a little more editing.
It’s not the most genius groundbreaking fantasy novel of the decade. But it doesn’t try to be. It’s a light read, a fantasy novel for readers, not scholars, with a few good twists and a lot of heart.
So now I’m going to gush about all the things I liked.
We get to find out what the Arc looks like.
This was actually one of the things that bugged me the most from Book 1–we don’t have a sun in this world, but a thing called the “Arc,” which I, the reader, had only the vaguest idea of what it looked like.
My best guess now is that it’s a bit like the rings of Saturn, except they serve the purpose of the sun.
I have no idea how that would affect the gravity/tides/light/etc. of this world, but I do think aesthetically it is very cool.
And I know I said Adeya has “damsel in distress” moments…
But that’s probably not quite fair. In addition to being very brave with the limited skillset that she has, Adeya is still the trained healer we met in the first book.
And in a world of characters giving could you please stop getting stabbed for five minutes energy, that’s a pretty useful thing to know.
We no longer have Mr. Sexist Nobleman wandering around
slowly driving me crazy by masking his horribleness in a ruse of chivalry.
Look, I’m a little renfaire bard, okay? I have feelings when it comes to chivalry.
Mostly running into stuff like this and saying That’s Not It.
Don’t misunderstand, there’s still a jerk in the book that I would like to personally punch in the face. But he’s more of a “I don’t respect you because I don’t appreciate your skills/you come from a different culture/also I’m going to flirt with you,” creep than a sexist one.
Variety, I guess. He is, at least, not getting away with it.
But let’s focus on the good stuff.
Lady warrior fighting right alongside her swordbrothers and it isn’t even questioned once if she should be there because she is amazing, and also did I mention she has metal spikes braided into her hair, braiding each other’s hair for battle, and by the way, there’s solid female friendships starting here–
The writing is good.
There are at least two places I was grinning because of a plot twist and one that made me gasp and say “No,” out loud, as in, “No, you did not just do that ooh that’s good.”
Not many books get that.
And for all that it’s a simple world, nothing overly detailed or complicated–
Let’s talk about the names!
This might have caught my attention reading the first book–we have Kyen of Avanna and Adeya of Isea, but also–Finn? And Clarissa?
Seems a little odd, right?
Oh, ho, ho, wait until you see what she’s done.
Let me introduce you to Ennyen, Gennen, Inen, Odallyan, and Wynne.
Notice a similarity in name structure? Or how about Kyen, son of Odyen?
Ignoring for a second the similarity to “Odin” and the mythic depth that connotation offers, it’s a pretty clear familial similarity. The previous five are all from the same country.
Doehrmann has carefully chosen names that tell you what country and culture the character comes from before any introduction is made.
The language nerd in me is immensely pleased.
Do I know the pronunciation difference between Ennyen and Inen?
But let’s talk about the romantic tropes.
Look, this isn’t a romance. It’s a very clean, tame little story about a boy and a girl, heroic teenagers, who just happen to be traveling together and falling into…a lot of romantic tropes.
- There’s Only One Bed. Technically I think this happens twice, and I’m just so amused because of how it turns out (hint: the romance readers are probably disappointed).
- Let me heal your wounds and gently touch your scars from long-ago battles
- I am absolutely protecting you (from both parties in the non-relationship)
- Sassy side character kids be like, “…y’all are runaway lovers, right?”
- oooh, you were betrothed once upon a time, and now I have to deal with Feelings that I definitely do not have.
- It’s okay for us to hang out because I am never getting married.
- (falls asleep on your shoulder)
- Prefers to sleep outside your door so I know you’re safe.
If you look me in the eye, and without smiling, tell me this isn’t going to be a romance somewhere down the road, darling, you lie to me and I do not believe you.
What I didn’t like?
Look, it’s not perfect.
I’m personally still not sold on the fiends as villains. Big shiny waves of shadow and light don’t really make me feel anything in a fight scene. Like yes, they’re visually stunning, but I don’t know what the impact is. A shadow creature that can double in size and grow itself new limbs when you hack them off is really disgusting and terrifying, yes, but does it have the same impact as fangs over your face, saliva dripping onto your cheek?
I know teeth are going to hurt. What it feels like to be absorbed by a fiend? I’m a little less sure.
It’s a little repetitive in places. The ruin is just a ruin–a maze to get lost in, and it’s difficult to tell one corner from the next. Kyen wanders off a lot, and a lot of time is taken up looking for (and usually not finding him).
Not that I blame him for that.
There’s still the creep I mentioned before. There’s a lot of sass and mockery from different characters towards Adeya just because she’s from a different culture and doesn’t understand how things work.
But all told?
It’s really nice. There’s a strong “murder isn’t the answer” vibe that we don’t get in a lot of books. The writing flows well, and it’s also one of those rare specimens where I like the sequel better than the first book. And there’s a lot more explanation of how this world’s magic system works–things that maybe aren’t essential to know to enjoy the story, but when they involve the difference in being/consciousness of non-human entities–I am definitely here for that.
So if you like books with magic, swords, and sassy side character children, and have some patience, Prince of the Fallen Kingdom might be just the thing.
Hm? What’s the patience for?
Funny thing, that.
After I finished the book, I wandered over to Doehrmann’s Goodreads page. Just to see what the next book was called, how many were in the series, that kind of thing.
And there’s the first book, there’s the second book–
And…there is no third book.
The elusive Book 3–has yet to be published.
So…yeah. Now we must wait.
Just when things were getting good.