My latest read is a book by Michael G. Manning. I originally wanted to start with another book of his, but decided to re-consider and start with the chronologically first book. This ended up being a mixed-feeling read that took me a while longer than I expected.
This review will, after a while, be far from as positive as my latest ones. As I said, I wanted to read another book from the same author, which caught my attention by the description, but that one was among the last, so I went for the chronological order.
The first issue I see with this book is… the description. Maybe it would be clearer if I read it in publication order, as a prequel, but… I had no idea what the story was to be about, what is the “grand scheme of things”. I can understand the fact it’s slightly misleading, as it’s from the MC’s PoV who doesn’t know the grand picture at the start, and that it preserves the big revelation (a mistake some other books or movie trailers did, far too strong hint of the big twist).
The second issue is a bit more personal taste/opinion: the “future narrator” narrative style. I’ve probably ranted about it in the past but the issue is that there’s a high spoiler potential (and yes, it does spoil things, the fact it’s a prequel and people reading publication order may know already is not an excuse). It leads to a point where it seems the narrator is trying to push an opinion with the power of hindsight instead of letting the readers form their own. And it mentions things this way that could’ve been way better as internal thoughts when the MC comes to them rather than “back then, he probably thought X” or “he later told me it may’ve been a mistake”. For me, that’s VERY disruptive. Furthermore, the narrator is first-person while the main story is third-person. With only one PoV character, which is also something I see as a shortcoming the narrator can’t remedy. There’s so much more that can be better done by getting into another character’s head in the main story rather than hindsight speculation, and it would probably explain a lot of things way better. And the book doesn’t even give you clear information about who the narrator is, and why (without reading the other books, at least).
Which leads me to another issue: character motivations. The MC, when he discovers his powers, does a lof of questionable things with them (warning: this passage of the book contains off-screen coerced sex) yet the book does very little to show the train of thoughts that had led the MC to act like this, and youthful curiosity would only work as an excuse for a short time. Likewise, the way some of the major supporting characters act before and at that point lacks clear motivation, because we don’t see into their head. That’s why multiple PoV is great!
Eventually, the MC’s powers send him on the run, and he ends up being a captive having to fight in the arena. I’ve read a couple of such sequences in other books, and there’s another issue here: while such situations are, by their nature, made to seem hard to escape, the main motivator for the character is often a chance for escape or freedom, no matter how slim. This is really missing here. The MC just fights, completely detached from it, and completely without any goal. Again, missing character motivation. This goes on for maybe 30-35% of the book – only then there’s a slight change. There are some revelations, but the mood at that point doesn’t help them – it feels like dry facts because the MC gets little to no incentive or motivation from them.
At the 64% mark comes another major appearance of the narrator, which brings quite a significant, even if indirect, spoiler for future books. At this point, hindsight says that the book’s description mentions this part of the MC’s future/past at the end rather than this book. That’s the issue – it’s not working well as a stand-alone, which some other prequels do. It’s hard to see where the story is going from the story itself, without reading the series in publication order (I guess).
This book alone doesn’t give much to go on for the story as a whole but, given the series’ name and the hints/spoilers from the narrator, it sounds like the beginning of a “fall to darkness” story. Which, again, may be an issue – not for those reading it as a prequel but for those starting here. Something the author maybe should’ve mentioned in the book’s description…
If you look at the above, you see it falls into two of my personal pits: narrative style, and the fact I tend to get disappointed by hyped-up books (this one has 500+ reviews on Amazon and 3500-ish on Goodreads, at quite high points). I’ve been considering to DNF this after the 10% sample, and at several points after, but persisted, hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel, but this is something that ended up being out of my taste. At this point, I’m likely to not continue this series, or any other series in this universe.
There’ve been a couple of other themes I’m not too fond of, and the fact the book not only includes coercion – and approaches it wrong when it comes to character motivation and thoughts, especially in such a moment, is another issue. I’ve read violent stories, and some of them included rape. In fiction, I can stand such things, if there’s a clear motivation or reason behind them, even if it’s just the inherent evil nature of the perpetrator. I have felt like this was an attempt on “morally gray” character that, I guess, eventually falls to the darker side, but it just didn’t work for me. And the decent pacing and decent fight scenes could only do so much.