Seven Princes by John R. Fultz.
Books of the Shaper, Volume 1.
Published by Orbit UK, January 2012
ISBN: 978 0 356 50081 2
498 pages + interview extra
Review by Mark Yon
The cover gives the promise of Heroic Fantasy, of which I’m quite a fan. On hearing a brief synopsis, Seven Princes to me sounded like a fresh take on the genre, so I was quite excited when I got a copy for review.
And having read it… well, it’s not.
The plot is basically The Magnificent Seven (or Battle Beyond the Stars, if you prefer), but using Princes instead of cowboys. Prince D’zan’s father, King Trimesqua, is slain by an army of the undead resurrected by Elhathym, a mysterious stranger who claims he has come back to reclaim the court of Yaskatha.
The only survivors of the massacre, D’zan and his bodyguard Olthalcus escape and try to enlist support and so reclaim the village kingdom. He enlists six other cowboys Princes to his cause. The duo travel to New Udurum to seek help from The Princes of Uurz – Tyro, the natural leader, and Lyrilan, the scholar – who pledge their support. Travelling to seek help from the Giant King Vod, they find that the King has abdicated, leaving the Kingdom in charge of his Queen, Shaira, with the help of their sons Fangodrel, Tadarus and Vireon, and daughter Sharadza. Lastly, Andoses, heir to the throne of Shar Dni, makes up the seventh. Together they go, in order to defeat the evil sorcerer and get D’zan back to where he rightfully belongs. Sharadza goes off to learn sorcery and be a witch in order to help.
Meanwhile Elathym has made alliances of his own, with Empress Ianthe of Khyrei. Ianthe attempts to assassinate D’zan but ends up killing Olthacus. This is the beginning of a high body count. “It’s about blood”, the publicity declares, and of that there’s plenty, with lots of woundings, stabbings, limb removals and all manner of blood-spattering antics.
OK. With such an (admittedly short) summary, there’s nothing sounding wrong with that plot. Throw in some Giants, lethal mummies from the dead, heaps of betrayal, assassinations, dark magic, some fast fighting scenes, and it should be a cracking read.
I really wanted to like this one. Sadly, in the end I was disappointed, but in my opinion it’s not as bad as some would have it. The pace is a little uneven, but it moves along at a fair clip. It’s solidly written, but, in the end, commits the sin of being quite interchangeable with other Fantasy books out there.
The characters were stereotypically heroic and all had motives for doing what they do, but, crucially, garnered no sympathy from me as a reader. Consequently, after a hundred or so pages, I was strangely unmoved by what was going on, despite it being clear that ‘things’ were being set up to happen. Whilst there’s enough here to keep the pages turning, there were times when I was just doing that without really wanting to keep reading.
Halfway through the book, I did find that I was struggling to maintain interest. I could see where it was going and that things were happening, but it became a book I was finding difficult to pick up. By the closing stages it was a case of finishing it because I was near the end rather than reading it to see what happens.
If you’re new to the genre you’ll probably like it, but for me it repeated old tropes without really bringing anything new to the table. It’s entertaining, but without being engaging, for me at least.
Whilst I hoped for something new to appear, to raise the game and make the book worth sticking with, in the end it just didn’t happen and I just felt I’d read it all before. A book to admire rather than love, and thus a missed opportunity.
Mark Yon, December 2011/January 2012