Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Dragon and the Crow -- A book review

Wow... it has now been over a month since I have blogged anything. :P That is a bit ridiculous... But with school, and work, and everything, life has gotten a bit crazy lately so I had to take a step back and breathe... lol! :)

So, over a month ago, I mentioned that I had several book reviews coming up that I hoped to be posting. Here is the first one.

A couple of months ago, I was perusing through a book forum I had found online, and I came across a thread that allowed authors to post about their published books and offer copies for review. I immediately started to browse… (do note that in this particular instance, my use of the words “perusing” and “browsing” mean different things… ;D) I soon came across a couple of books that caught my interest and, curious about them, I clicked through to their amazon page. Of course, I read the samples provided. Good writing! I was definitely intrigued. The best part was, on the forums, the authors were offering to send physical copies of the books to reviews, rather than just offering e-copies.

That was enough. I definitely wanted to read further, so I emailed the authors and asked if they would like to send me a copy of their books in exchange for reviews on my blog and on amazon. They said yes. SCORE! Especially since both authors were from overseas… one from Australia, and the other from the U.K.

The first book came in the mail about two weeks later. It was from the Australian author, and it was called “The Dragon and the Crow”. Interesting title and nice book cover. There were some things in the blurb I wasn’t sure about, but I decided to read it anyway and see what it was all about – besides, I had agreed to read it, and so far it had captured my interested. So, to start this review, here is a picture of the cover, and from there I’m going to launch straight into my review… and we’ll see if I can’t explain things in a way that others can understand. Lol!

And here's the book trailer... it's quite good. :D

My Thoughts:

Ok, to begin, this is probably going to be one of the more complete reviews that I’ve ever written. I’m going to start with the complexity of the story through the characterization of the characters involved.

The first person that I’m going to address is Brin. He’s the main character in the book and his problem is one relatively unique (in my own opinion) from other fantasy stories that I’ve read. You see, Brin is the only magicless person in a world where everyone can not only use magic, but does use magic every day.  However, Brin can’t even work the simple magics that turn on the house lights or work the oven, and that’s sure no picnic in a place where everyone is expected to be able to use such simple things. Life is hard for a kid with no true magical abilities, but what Brin can’t possibly begin to understand is that he is actually the key to winning an ancient war the whole world never realized was being waged.

You see, in Brin’s world, there is a story of how an ancient champion first defeated the dragons and the elves and the dwarves, and made it so that humans would be able to use magic as much as the ancient races. In the process, however, the stars were wiped from the sky. Now, in Brin’s time when everyone can use magic equally (accept for Brin himself, of course), there are rebels rising up that blame the king and his line for the loss of the stars. They call the king a tyrant, and in the book they follow a woman who believes in a prophesy that says that it will be a magicless boy that will defeat the tyrant, bring back the stars, and save the ancient races from dying out all together. The king has named this woman a witch and has convinced everyone else that she is such, and is very dangerous to the peace of the kingdom. The fact that the woman is dangerous is not even a question… but evil?

Until we near the end of the book, we don’t know much about the woman who is the king’s enemy. She is known throughout most of the book simply as “the Witch”. Nearer the end of the book, however, we actually get to meet her, at which point in time she and her followers try to explain things to our main character, Brin. Their explanation is that “The Witch” is not that at all, but the legitimate daughter of one of the first kings of the land – so technically, she’s actually a princess. How she manages to live so long is a long and complicated story that I won’t go into at the moment, but what is important to know about her is that the king’s wife died, and he married another woman who bore him a son. The King’s second wife was, I believe (following true fairy-tale style) an actual witch who wanted her son to take over the throne, instead of the rightful heir who was the king’s first-born daughter, and so she sought to kill the king’s daughter. The princess was taken into hiding by one of the old king’s advisors, and protected, but the witch-queen’s son ended up taking over the throne… and he was, in fact, the king that ruled in Brin’s time, hundreds of years later… but again, that’s a long story. As “the witch/princess” explains to Brin, her true aim is to throw down the tyrant king who stole her father’s throne from her, and to restore “magic” back to its proper state in the world.

The reason I decided to explain all that, is that you can start to get a feeling for the complexity of these characters and their backgrounds. The character of “the witch” in this story, is not what she seems to be… nor indeed, not what most of the people in the story think her to be. While the king, who at the beginning of the book is seen as a savior-type person, protecting the human race from the ancient races and distributing magic evenly throughout the people of the kingdom, turns out to actually be the villain… a usurper who is ultimately evil at the core but very cunning about hiding it. All the king actually wants is the power that comes with controlling the source of magic throughout the realm, and he is willing to do almost anything to get and keep that power, even going so far as to deceive his own sons in order to have them willingly work for him in his plans to destroy the “witch”. Brin comes into the story because neither the king’s plans, nor the witch/princess’ plans will succeed without the aid of a child who has no magic… and Brin is the only child like that in the world.

Then, of course, as we dig deeper and deeper into the complexities of this story, we have The Hen. His name is actually Henry, but he insists on being called The Hen. The Hen is a man who used to be a rebel on the side of the witch, but who since went bad and decided that, rather than further either the witch/princess’ side of the battle, or the king’s side of the battle, it would be better if he were to just take everything over himself. The book actually opens with an appearance of The Hen, but surprisingly enough, we don’t see a whole lot of him throughout the book… that, however, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t play an important role (as is found out nearer the end of the book… I’m not going to spoil the surprise if you decide to read it.)

What I found to be most intriguing throughout the book were the character interactions and deceptions. For instance, you have the King and Brin. The king obviously has ulterior motives that are not in Brin’s best interest, and yet Brin has been taught all his life that the king is a good guy… a savior type person. The king, of course, makes no attempt to disillusion Brin, especially since it is in the king’s best interest to use Brin to the boy’s own destruction so long as the outcome of that destruction is the king winning the war and gaining the power that he wants.

Then you have the King and the Witch. The king has told all of the people of the land that the witch is evil – and because of this, the people believe his deception that he is actually the good guy. So, from the beginning, the witch (who apparently is not a witch or evil) is seen and thought of as evil until later in the story.  Even the book blurb says that she's evil... that she wants chaos and the king's head on a stake.  But is she really like that, or is there something more???

Then we have Brin and the Witch. It starts to get really complicated when we later are actually introduced to the witch through Brin’s point of view. I still haven’t figured out entirely if she is supposed to be good or bad, or what… or if she’s just using Brin to her own gain, even as the king is using him. By the time I got to that point in the book, the knowledge that I had gleaned about her was so scrambled and torn between what Brin used to know and what he was learning, that it was difficult to decide where the woman was actually supposed to fit.  Good?  Evil?  Somewhere in between?

I'll give the author this: he sure does know how to make complicated characters. :D

Then you have Henry and Brin. Henry seems to be the real villain of the story in the beginning, but as the story unfolded, I began to wonder what part in the story he really had to play. He originally captured Brin because he was going to use Brin to somehow release the sleeping Dragon King… which, of course, terrified Brin out of his wits. But it was never made clear how the Hen’s actions actually affected the overall plot… although I assume that might be made more clear in future books.

And then, of course, we have Henry and the Witch. Henry was originally another magicless boy who the king had seduced and tried to use, and who the witch supposedly saved. He had become the witch’s apprentice, yet apparently something went terribly wrong. Somehow, Henry went bad and decided to take his own side in the war… he wanted to wipe out both the witch and the king, and to set himself up as king instead.

Now, couple this information with what you know of the History of the world. You soon learn that you can’t trust what you know of the history, because both sides have a story, and both sides think they are right.  What most citizen's learn of the history of the world is from the king's point of view... but is the king's point of view the RIGHT point of view?  That’s one thing that Brin starts to question when he meets the witch… how much of the history that he learned as a younger boy is actually true, and how much is deception? The whole idea of it becomes warped and confusing. However, one thing that I felt was very consistent in the book was the fact that we never really learned much about the history of the world to begin with. What we do learn of the history of the world is minimal, and later our ideas of the truth behind those stories becomes distorted... which actually works towards the author's plans, in my opinion, because as we watch the sides of good and evil flip, it is easier for the author to change the stories that make up the history of the world; in essence, if the original history isn't so complicated, it's not nearly as complicating to change it for someone else's point of view. :)  But I will admit that it got a little confusing.  Even Brin starts getting confused, when he finds out that either side of the story could possibly be true in the eyes of the one telling it... and that all depends on who the teller is.

Did I mention at the beginning of this review that this story was complex? Yeah, well, I meant it. *whew!*

Now, I’m sure you are wondering what my true, personal opinion of this story actually is. So here goes.

The read was interesting but not overly so. I usually read several chapters at a time, curious to see what would happen next, but the material was so… “dense” (for lack of a better word)… so full of details and plot turns and character workings and world building that it was hard for me to read more than a little bit at a time. When taken in small measures, I found I could process the information a lot better if I would just put the book down and think through what I had read. There was action, of course, but it wasn’t really fast-paced action and, when coupled with the information infused within the whole story, it made the story a bit of a slower read for me. I had to wait and let things “sink in” before I could start reading it again. For that reason, I found that I could put the book down for several days, and then, when I picked it up again, I would read a few chapters and have to set it down once more in order to process everything.  All in all, a pretty good read.

And now, do I have any other thoughts on the matter? Why yes… yes I do. As you have probably been able to tell from my review this far, I thought that – as a fantasy story in and of itself – this book was actually quite good. Technically speaking, there was not a whole lot for me to pick on.

 However, coming from the perspective of a Christian reader, I did have some personal issues with the story that made me feel slightly uncomfortable...

1) The frequent use of the word “witch” was a big red flag for me.  Even though everything ended up not being how it originally seemed to be, the word itself just bothered me... even though, yes, I knew it was going to be in the book. The term became even more confusing when the lady who had been called a “witch” for most of the book, was suddenly (supposedly) not actually a witch at all but one of the good guys, and when the king was suddenly revealed to be evil – confusing. Good for plot, perhaps, but confusing. It was the cause of a lot of grey area… what was evil, what was not, who was who…? You get the idea.

2) Though I admired the author’s thoughts on turning the tables with magic being a much more common entity in a fantasy story, rather than it being a gift or special power or some such thing only bestowed upon a few, what really worried me was the way that the magic was invoked.

When I think of magic, I think of the Chronicles of Narnia and Aslan; in my books, “magic” is often referred to as something else – a supernatural gift, if you will, bestowed on a person by God (or whoever my God-character is). I’m very careful with how it is portrayed and how it works when I write things like that into my own stories… and quite frankly, I’m really not the biggest fan of stories that use magic by way of spells and other such incantations and chantings. I will admit to having a few such books that I enjoy (*sniff* Tamora Pierce is awesome... just sayin'...)  but most of the time I just don't read that stuff.

Still, I will admit that I like the idea of an ancient commanding language – such things, in my mind, are feasible, since words are so important to God; after all, God spoke and the world was. But the thought of chanting or saying something in verse or some other form of a spell in order to invoke magic of a person’s own free will… that isn’t right in my mind. Only God has control of such things, and He needs no spells, chantings, or incantations to work His wonders… if He grants a person a “Gift” or a means by which to work a miracle, that’s not magic… it’s supernatural, and it’s from God.

 I also wasn’t sure how I felt about “magic” being so extremely common that EVERYONE could use it. It may just be a preference of mine, but I don’t really like the thought of it being so… so ordinary.  Cool idea, though... but then again, my thoughts in this particular instance are just personal opinion. :D

So basically, the story in and of itself – simply as a fantasy story without trying to go any deeper than that – seemed well thought out and put together, and it proved intriguing to me as well. It seems that the author definitely had some good thoughts here, and he worked hard to put the world of his story together in a complicated and complex pattern, in order to make it seem more realistic. Ultimately, I would say it is a good story, in a general sense – thought provoking, intriguing, and a fun romp.  And the ending REALLY put a new spin on things... makes you curious about how the story continues.  I'm not going to give spoilers about that here... if you are truly interested, you'll just have to find out for yourself.  ;)

However, as a Christian reader, I feel that there were many aspects of the story that pricked at my consciousness and spirit in places. For that, I feel that I must warn other Christian readers… especially young Christian readers… that they should be careful about picking up this book UNLESS they are ok with this type of a read and what it entails. Just my own little disclaimer there.

Still, I can’t help but admire this author’s world building skills and his creativity with producing an intricate and complicated plot, not to mention intricate and complicated characters. For those I will give him credit - lots of it. :D

For the other… well, there’s not much I can do about that. Sorry.

On a much lighter note, the author made the map for the story himself, and from one artist to another, I must say I think it looks quite awesome. ^_^ He definitely gets two thumbs up for that. :D

Signed with a flourish,
Nichole White

(Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book from the author and was not required to write a positive review.)

No comments: