AMG Publishers/Living Ink Books
October 2010, Trade Paperback
Wayne Thomas Batson has written a number of well-received young adult novels and with Sword in the Stars, he launches both a new series (The Dark Sea Annals) and his foray into adult fantasy. The novel concerns itself with magical artifacts; fallen kings; a war against an inhuman horde; a hero who seeks redemption and love; and of course; an orphan prophesized to be a savior. In other words, essential ingredients for what many would consider classic High Fantasy.
The protagonist, Alastair Coldhollow is a broken man, having given into addiction after years of being an assassin in King Morlan’s army. He is haunted by the forgiveness shown by the widow of a man he killed, and enlightened by her words of the First One, which is basically God in Batson’s world of Myriad. As Alastair is searching himself for redemption, he thinks he is the one who will find the Halfainian, the savior prophesized by the stars. He holds a tournament to test a number of potential warriors, but still cannot find his savior. Upon the conclusion of the tournament, a baby is thrust upon him and he must find a way to raise the child. Having no experience with children, his mind turns to Abbagael a young girl who looks up to him whose family, unknown to her, was slaughtered by Alastair’s old army.
While Alastair is going though his trials of redemption, the Gorrack Nation is an ever threatening presence to the realm of Anglinore, ruled by King Morlan’s much more benevolent brother King Aravel. Aravel is cautious to trigger a protracted conflict against the Gorracks, but his brother Morlan all but begs for outright war. To say Morlan and Aravel compare a bit to Cain and Abel is understating their relationship. Morlan’s jealousy-bordering-on-hatred of his older brother, older by mere minutes much to Morlan’s consternation, fuels his entire story thread in Sword in the Stars, and is very much a fall to temptation and darkness in Biblical proportions. I thought this the strongest aspect of the novel, Batson managed to convey the anger and jealousy in Morlan very effectively so much so that while his reaction to the feelings may be difficult to empathize with, the feelings themselves are relatable to an extent. In particular, the scenes detailing Morlan’s interaction with the Satan figure in the story were powerful and believable.
Alastair’s journey of redemption in his own eyes, in Abbagael’s eyes, and eventually Aravel’s eyes proves to be a strong contrast to Morlan’s fall. Through Alastair’s journey, his relationship with Abbagael grows into something he is unwilling to admit or consider, but flourishes perhaps through narrative imperative. I thought Alastair’s role in the blossoming relationship was fairly genuine, but Abbagael’s role less so. It eventually works, I think, but the journey to its end does have a few narrative bumps.
Batson’s faith is not something that can be ignored, nor can the fact that this story is very much a fantasy with overt Christian themes (it is after all published by a well known religious / Christian publisher). That said, I don’t consider myself an overly religious person and though I appreciated the religious themes and how much of the story resonated with themes of the Bible, never once did I feel the story was heavy-handed or that a good story suffered for an author’s religious or political agenda. In other words, a fine balance between theme and story, and I say this because I wouldn’t want readers who may normally avoid Christian Fantasy (or other stories with heavy religious overtones/themes) to avoid what is an engaging story.
On balance; however, at times some portions of the story were very predictable though I don’t think Wayne was really trying to hide anything from the reader. For example, Alastair is given a sign that he will be the one to find the savior known as the Halfainian, it takes him quite a while to even consider the baby (who goes through a major portion of the novel being unnamed) thrust upon in the first third of the novel as a potential candidate for the prophesized savior. Readers, genre or otherwise, will likely put those two together fairly quickly. The other thing that threw me off as I began the book was the back cover of the novel, it isn’t quite an accurate estimation of the book between the covers as it offers more of a description of what the second book in the series may turn out to be rather than the first.
There’s a lot Wayne put into this world that will be familiar to or resonate with seasoned readers of fantasy, but I appreciated the creative touches he put to everything that made it his own. A depth of history enriches the world of Myriad as do character types like Shepherds, cleric-like magical protectors; the (sometimes frustrating) winged-folk known as Windbourne; and the Sprite-like Willowfolk among other elements that are best discovered by the reader rather than revealed by this reviewer.
In the end, I enjoyed the novel a lot and found the pacing to be very nice. The pages turned rather quickly; I wanted to keep reading, which is one of the most important elements of a story/novel, right? I think it is a good “next step” for Wayne as his writing career evolves. Readers looking for High Fantasy with all the essential ingredients will likely enjoy Sword in the Stars, though readers who have been consuming George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and some of the other current heavyweights in the genre may be slightly put off by the relative simplicity of Batson’s tale. But sometimes, the simplest things are often the most enjoyable. For example, meatloaf is one of the simplest and easiest meals one can make, but it also happens to be one of my favorites. I’m not saying Wayne or his novel is meatloaf, but the comparison is mostly apt.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford