“The danger was more subtle. It was the danger you feel when you stare into the eyes of a resting lion. It is the unspoken threat of harm from one who knows he is more powerful than you. It is the danger that comes with the wind on an icy night.”
When a self-published author is compared to a giant like Patrick Rothfuss, there has to be a reason. This association is both good and bad for Edward M. Knight’s debut.
Dagan is a child thrown out of his house after nearly being killed by his mother. A gypsy finds him in the mud and sends him to a slaver. Pain, death, and the darkest of human nature follows, but this child finds a friend through the sewage: The slaver’s wife. But like most lights at the end of a tunnel, this exit is squashed with the obligatory rape and a knife.
Crushed, the little boy is sent back to his cell. There is still training to be done, for children are gladiators sent to the Arena, to die for people’s amusement. I mean, who’s going to miss a few cripples, layabouts, and orphans?
Evidently a few knights care. Just as Dagan is being carted off to the capital, riders come blasting off beside them. They see the heinous crimes, hear the slaver’s insults, and decide pride increases with good deeds. So they kill the slavers and rescue Dagan, give him a coin, and shove him down the road. They don’t take layabouts either.
Thus, our narrator’s tale truly begins as he walks into the greatest city ever built, Hallengard. This is where the connections to The Name of the Wind become important. And derivative.
“A rumor that is repeated often enough frequently takes on the appearance of truth.”
Just like Patrick Rothfuss’s debut, something important is stolen, a life of an urchin is gained, someone has to nurse the kid back to health, and someone has to teach him about magic. It’s all very similar. While Knight manages to twist these ideas at times, such as the opening with his mother, the rougher framing narrative in the bar, and even the healer, I can’t excuse the blatant copy and paste that went on here.
For the first half of the novel, you might as well read Rothfuss’s debut, but imagine it darker. Up until Dagan meets the mysterious bearded man with a past and an affinity for magic, there is very little to mark a difference between the two books. Aside from style.
While Rothfuss leaves no stone unturned, Knight focuses squarely on the plot. He is stark and minimalistic. He has very little room for world-building, and all the character building can be thrown together under the common gritty anti-hero of a coming of age tale. While you can understand and sympathize with Dagan and his mentor, the two have very little differences besides competence and age. It all feels familiar, like your many stacks of traditional fantasy. There’s not something that sets him apart from most writers in the genre.
“A blue hen stands out in a flock of fifteen, but is lost in a crowd of one thousand.”
Frankly, if the plot wasn’t so decent and the pacing so fast, I would question what people saw in this. Yes, the style is smooth, but it tells oftentimes more than it shows. There are also way too many, “You have to understand. . .” phrases interjected so we won’t forget what was mentioned a few pages back.
The first half of the book holds your hand. The second half treats you to an author finding his way, even if he still has the subtlety of a baseball bat. It’s blunt and a little simple, but enjoyable. And I usually enjoy simplistic writing.
My favorite part, though, had to be when the mentor is telling Dagan how magic came into the world, how an evil wizard challenged the last god, and “broke a seal” so to speak. This storytelling inception shows that Knight really has the chops to give us some unexpected turns.
“But if no one believes in the impossible, what would any of us dream of?”
While it can stray too close to Patrick Rothfuss’s debut, at least it doesn’t earn the dreaded reviewer tack on of “like Game of Thrones.” There’s promise between these pages, and I’m happy to watch this writer grow. For the price of a pack of gum, it’s well worth the read. It’ll fly by faster than the gum, but’ll give a much sweeter, albeit bloodier, taste.
“If he could show some people, somewhere, that life was more than an empty struggle, he left fulfilled.”