Savage Messiah by Robert Newcomb


Published by Del Rey
January 2006
ISBN 1-345-47707-3
574 pages

Savage Messiah is the fourth novel by Robert Newcomb and the first in a new trilogy entitled The Destinies of Blood and Stone, itself a sequel-trilogy to The Chronicles of Blood and Stone. The novel begins with a prologue introducing readers to a skilled assassin, Satine. Once the novel starts properly, we learn that Wulfgar, half-brother to protagonist, Tristan assumed defeated upon the conclusion of the previous volume, is actually alive and plotting against Tristan. In essence, the Dark Lord whom the heroes thought they defeated is actually alive, a relatively familiar premise in Epic Fantasy.

Many writers have worked with this, or other familiar formulas with great success. Of course these other writers have added something new, infused the story with a unique voice, or have written in an engaging style that makes the story seem fresh. Still other writers, usually the best, manage to both say something new and tell the story with sparkling, clear prose. Unfortunately, Robert Newcomb doesn’t manage to do any of these things. The prose was clunky and cumbersome, with sentences and paragraphs overly wordy, further hampered by wooden characters speaking very stilted dialogue.

A number naming conventions and phrases rang rather silly, with an overemphasis on all things azure. One in particular struck me fairly strangely; a discipline of martial skills is called “The Serpent and the Sword,’ with the Serpent representing various forms of hand-to-hand combat. Serpent, is of course, another term for a snake, which has no limbs and really can’t engage in hand-to-hand combat. Another time he gives a group of people a title, “the Corporeals” and says they have the name for good reason, yet he doesn’t explain this good reason. Towards the end of the novel, I felt as if I was re-reading chapters, as two chapters began in a nearly identical fashion. The dichotomy of good and evil seems somewhat misogynistic, as the “Vigors” symbolize the good magic and the “Vagaries” symbolizing the evil magic, just switch a couple of those letters around for the evil magic.

There were a couple of positives; however. The monsters and creatures Newcomb created to aid Wulfgar in his quest against Tristan were interesting. Even though this novel is part of a larger story, I thought Newcomb didn’t alienate readers who aren’t familiar with his world. There were many references to the events in the previous books, but they were worked fairly well into the story, and allowed new readers to acclimate themselves fairly well. The character of Satine was probably the most interesting.

Savage Messiah is the unimaginative type of fantasy that lends credence to all the criticisms of unoriginality and bad writing leveled, unfairly, on the genre as a whole. Those who hold Newcomb’s work in high regard should try writers Greg Keyes, George R.R. Martin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tad Williams, Jacqueline Carey, or some newer authors like Gary Wassner and Naomi Novik to see how Epic fantasy is supposed to be handled.

© 2006 Rob H. Bedford

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