“Patience breeds perfection.”
Sometimes you just need a fun story to break you out of the dull literary crap. And Brandon Draga’s subtle twists in his debut is exactly the kind of comfortable fantasy tale I needed. This pulpy Sword and Sorcery doesn’t take itself too seriously, inserts a whopping dose of humor at every turn, and still manages to be a little genre savvy as you pass each page.
I’ll put it like this: Draga doesn’t focus so much on plot as he does characters, and that’s not something you hear too often in this sub-genre.
We open with Father Summerlark busting open the door of his farm. Now, his wife’s not too happy about him carrying in a pregnant woman. But this girl ain’t no common whore. She’s an elf who’s about to give birth, bring joy to the world, and present the Summerlark family a whole helping of trouble in the future.
Suffice to say, she dies on the table after labor, giving two humans a fae girl in the Bastion of Humanity. Yeah, things aren’t going to go so well later down the road.
Twenty years later, a smuggler duo has been contracted to find a woman in the country of Hallowspire, the only elf known to live inside its walls. They can’t pass up half a year’s worth of coin. But darker works are at play, and soon even the Guildmaster who tied them up to the job is in a world of hurt. Even the puppetmaster has strings.
Thus, we are shown a farmer who’s not a sword-weilding maniac, an elf whose ears have been cut off, a Halfling who deals in strategy and not knives, a bard whose smile is more than just for singing, and an almost pacifist, eloquent dwarf.
Yes, Draga knows how to twist the story around.
But there are some originality problems, predominately in names. Lannister Ravenclaw is the biggest offender. Simple surnames and cities that are thrown around are as creative as a box of rocks. But at least they’re not riddled with apostrophes.
Another unremarkable aspect of the story is the magic system. I doted on another self-published author, Edward M. Knight, on his use of wild magic. But while that fits the dark story he’s set, Draga’s is a common “words have power” bit of hand waving that can veer into un-believability. Maybe it’s just me. I’m not a fan of innate magical talent, and the author throws this around a good many times.
However, there is one aspect of his writing I can’t excuse.
Draga breaks the biggest no-no any newbie writer knows: Don’t head hop. I can’t tell you how many scenes broke my immersion because he decided to switch character perspectives halfway through. It’s no omniscient. It’s lazy. All he needs is a paragraph break to differentiate the change.
“He was a man of the road, and any man of the road will no doubt suffer some wanderlust when in once place for too long.”
But I have to harp on his greatest creation: the characters.
Unlike most self-published debuts, or mere Sword and Sorcery novels, none of Brandon Draga’s characters fall into caricatures. Everyone has a motivation, and all are a subtle twist on what is usually presented.
The heroine of our tale might look like a feisty redhead, but she’s no wild and rough farmer. She’s considerate; she has a backbone, and she’s curious. She’s multifaceted and at the end, she might just be the most layered. Or at least has the most potential to be in the coming novels.
And then there’s the two thieves, a Halfling and a Half-elf.
The former’s name is O’doc, a man with a past and sharper wit than any blade. He’s brilliant and when the fire burns in his eyes, I love it. But while O’doc is a piece of newly forged cold steel, his partner Erasmus is the flames used to forge him.
And that’s a good way to describe their relationship. The Half-elf is a bard with a bit of magic in his veins, a sullen charisma that would rather steal your coin than charm you. But make no mistake, he could become a gentleman thief.
That’s exactly the opposite of our friendly Dwarf, Adrik. He’s a lovable merchant who’s seen the world. While he’s soft spoken and eloquent most the time, he’s brilliant and knows when to get a little rough around the edges, as much as he dislikes it. He can be a gentleman, but he can also break a door down when the need arises.
He was a favorite of the group.
As you can tell, Draga likes to mess with traditional stuff like Orcs and wizards and black conspiracies, but he has just enough creativity to make it his own. He might’ve been a bit too quick to resolve the plot, but he did a fabulous job on the character arc of our heroine.
The epilogue sets us up for what I think will be a fabulous sequel. He just needs to roll out another five more after that, with some large helpings of world-buidling to really spice things up..
“’Where I come from I could throw a rock and hit a finer rock, and that first rock’d be precious to begin with!’”
*I was given this ARC for my honest review.*