I have no memory of acquiring this book.
No, but seriously. I opened my Kindle to read Battlefield Earth, and there it was, at the very top of my virtual bookshelf, implying that I’d downloaded it sometime in the last two weeks.
I have, at best, only a fuzzy recollection of possibly doing so.
More concerning, its title contains the word “Arc.”
I am not on the advanced reader team for this book. I am not familiar with this author. No emails have been exchanged requesting a review.
Goodreads claims it was published in 2021.
cue the bookmarkedone panic because nooo I did not leave this book sitting there that long, right?
In case you’re worried, I downloaded it January 28th. Of this year. “Arc” is part of the series name, not an indication of an advanced copy. Most likely it was a freebie someone posted on Twitter, I snagged it, and promptly forgot about it in the chaos that is reviewing books, composing a musical, and plotting the creation of a medieval punk band.
I’m always very careful with my ARCs.
The Kingmaster, by C. A. Doehrmann
Series: Arc Legends of Ellunon, No. 1
Genre: (YA) Fantasy
Content for the Sensitive Reader:
Bloodshed, Epic Battles, plenty of swordfighting, magic, one Man Who Mysteriously Lost His Shirt scene, mind control/possession, poisoning, use of blowdarts (if you have a needle phobia, this might not be for you), some sexist/ableist comments.
It’s actually a rather fun read. It’s got a good flow to the prose, one that catches you and keeps you reading so the pages flick by. And it’s quick. Compared to the 1,050-page monster that is Battlefield Earth, I felt like a wizard speeding through this.
It starts in the middle of things, not so deep that you have no idea what’s going on, but so the characters already know each other and have some history to their relationships and the world.
I knew this was an indie book, so I braced myself for the flaws that come with that heritage–no professional editing team, usually the early days of a new writer, some soft spots in the story.
A few typos. That’s all. That and the perhaps too-blue background of the cover are the only things that immediately separate this from a traditionally-published novel (and let’s face it. I’ve picked out typos in professionally published books. Even among my favorites).
It deserves being noted. Because to come up with something that polished, to do it on your own, while handling writing, formatting, publicity, and getting it to the grubby hands of hungry little readers–
It’s quite something.
Anyway, on to the book itself.
Allow me to introduce you to our cast of characters.
Kyen of Avanna
Skinny lad. Believes in the beauty and wonder of The Sandwich. Forgets things easily. Wanders off often. Fights for his friends. Very awkward around young ladies of nobility. Doesn’t do physical affection (hugs). Oh yeah, and there’s something about him being a master swordsman and the sole survivor of a kingdom decimated in the last war, of which he is a mythic hero.
This boy. I kind of love him.
Finn of Veleda
Redhead. Also fight-for-my-friends type. Gets woefully insufficient page time. Has ten sisters. Also happens to be a crown prince.
Adeya of Isea
Have you read or seen The Princess Bride? She’s…kind of a Buttercup. Little bit. You know, stunningly beautiful, Goldilocks hair, plays the damsel in distress. Three times. Cries…a lot.
It’s not as bad as all that. She’s spunky and energetic and knows what she wants. She doesn’t let anyone stand in her way.
She’s young, that’s all. And next to two master swordsmen when she’s just learning the basics of fighting, she’s going to look clumsy and awkward.
I like Adeya. Or I want to like her, anyway. She’s kind. All she really wants to do is help.
Galveston of Eope
So while titles for Finn and Adeya are more like minor inconveniences that do not prevent them from hanging out with a homeless wanderer like Kyen–
Galveston is a Prince.
Imagine Boromir, and then add an extra layer of pompishness.
I like Boromir. Galveston–less.
At any rate, he’s still cool when it comes down to smashing stuff with a sword. He’s a former soldier who lost a hand in the same war Kyen fought in–but that doesn’t stop him from knocking down his foes like bowling pins. In that aspect, at least, he’s amazing.
The Kingmaster (villain)
Ah yes! The swishy-swishy-black-cloaked bad guy! Assassin time! Appearing in your bushes with a blowpipe and poison darts! Mysteriously escaping all possible pursuit!
I can’t actually say more than that without spoiling the book.
The story itself?
There’s a lot to like.
- the fight scenes are actually…good? As in reading them is interesting because of the way the author describes the way the characters move (and yes, each one has a different fighting style and it’s gorgeous)
- Doehrmann knows how to write some suspense and make you care about the characters (Kyen. We care about Kyen. Boy deserves more sandwiches)
- There are some eyebrow-raising plot twists (even if I, a seasoned fantasy curmudgeon, had my suspicions)
- tree cities
- Tree Cities.
- less murder than you might expect. Look, it’s a fantasy where the fate of the world is at stake, so there’s going to be some bloodshed, some casualties. But Doehrmann is careful. She doesn’t see death as the ultimate answer to solving a conflict. Especially in cases where monsters can’t be killed.
What I didn’t like?
- it’s quirky for the sake of being quirky–there’s no sun in this world, just the “arc.” No implication of what this looks like or how a sun in the shape of a crescent moon might affect the world it shines on, gravity, twilight, etc. (although we do get a green sunrise, which is…frankly, lovely). It’s for the aesthetic, like the names, and doesn’t really have anything to do with the worldbuilding or story.
- sexist comments to the girl! You’re a woman! You can’t fight!
cue a round table of literary lady assassins laughing in this stupid boy’s face. Just because we might weigh half as much as you and don’t have the power of a charging bull, we can still stab, slice, poison, and political-intrigue our way just fine, thank you.
- ableist comments to the guy–
At first I thought it was a coincidence/sloppy writing, how frequently Galveston’s missing hand was brought up in description. Okay, we get it. He’s missing a hand. Lots of people in fantasy (and especially High Sea/Pirate) books are.
But then we get to the topic of why Adeya doesn’t like him. Not technically a spoiler here, since it’s obvious from their introduction, when he’s presented as her suitor, and she’s presented as…less enthused.
“I mean, have you seen Galveston’s arm? And he’s so old! I’ve tried but I can’t! I just can’t!”Doehrmann, C. A. The Kingmaster: (Arc Legends of Ellunon Book 1) (p. 191). C. A. Doehrmann. Kindle Edition.
I can see her not wanting to have a suitor significantly older than herself–she reads like a teenager, although I don’t believe her age is ever mentioned, and honestly, who can blame her there?
But complaining about his arm?
(cue furious bookmarkedone noises)
I’m angry about this for a lot of reasons.
- It’s not a big deal. It’s not even ugly to look at, it’s just a clean amputation.
- He gets on fine without the hand (see smashing up lots of people/places with his sword)
- Congratulations! You just made your protagonist so shallow when we were just starting to like her!
- There are so many other things to dislike about Galveston that there’s really no excuse for Adeya choosing this one
- his personality
- his nastiness to her/trying to make her feel small/useless
- his casual sexism
- the fact that they just aren’t a good fit for each other as people
Need to reject a guy’s affections? Totally fine. It happens. Don’t take your tips from Adeya of Isea.
The whole Galveston comment has to make me reevaluate another aspect of the book that I dismissed on the grounds of “writer probably didn’t think about it from this angle.”
It’s medieval fantasy. Everyone has various types of swords, shields, spears, helmets, Spanish-style cotton armor, leather armor, chain mail–you get the idea.
They all have traditional, fantasy-trope Eurocentrically-medieval weapons, while the villain has a blowpipe.
I’m going with the hope that the author did her research and discovered it has been used in Western Europe, even if it traditionally is associated with Asia and Central and South America.
Instead of, y’know, singling out the villain as “culturally different.”
You wouldn’t do that…right?
Last thing that makes me squirm is the whole “arcangel” thing. It’s clearly drawn from religious language, and the entire book is characterized by the light/dark, good/bad imagery.
It’s the first book. I don’t know what the writer is plotting for the future, if this is intentional allegory or–just something that happened. It’s something I pay close attention to, anyway.
All in all, it’s not a bad little book.
It’s a fun read, even with its flaws. And it’s got a good moral at its heart:
Stick by your friends, even if they push you away and you aren’t sure what to do, vett your guests better than “dude, that’s a great story,” oh, and make sure that you give soldiers an ample pension when they retire so they don’t start an uprising against you.
Solid life advice.