Monday, May 1, 2017

Darkstorm (Rhenwars Saga 1#) by M.L. Spencer review

    Darkstorm is an interesting novel because I can't help but think of a high school class of Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, and other short fantasy novel series with Rhenwars sitting in the back as the Goth chick. It's a book which superficially has a resemblance to all the fun Dungeons and Dragons "adventure" fiction where there's a threat to the world, a misfit party of adventurers, evil villains, and a ticking clock forcing everyone to put aside their personal baggage. The thing is the heroes fail miserably in trying to get their act together and it has a much more cynical take on human nature. There's also a good deal more sex, lies, and personal betrayals that make the story quite a bit more interesting than your typical dark elf with two scimitars tale.

    The premise is Merris is a young street orphan turned mage who is trying to follow her master to get some juicy details she can use to blackmail him (due to him wanting to throw her out). She gets more than she bargained for when she discovers he's become part of a cult of demon-worshipers. This results in her hooking up with two wizard brothers, one a successful battlemage while the other is a handsome but broken drunk, as well as the beautiful lover of the former.

    The battlemage, Branden, is determined to stop the cult, even when he discovers that they're using demonic magic to stabilize a cataclysm that will kill all magic users in the world. It's a plan which will permanently make worshiping their equivalent to Satan as part of their religion but most wizards are apathetic about religion anyway. Personal flaws and jealousy tear into the makeshift group even as none of them, save one, really like their need to stop the cultists.

This conversation more or less happens verbatim.
    I like the characters as they're fairly well-rounded for the short time we get to be with them. All of them are suffering from some heavy character flaws while having better qualities too. The villains' motivation is arguably far more sympathetic than the primary hero's. While doubting any plan which begins with, "harnessing the power of hell for the greater good", I find the way Branden casually dismisses of thousands of magi lives as well as the destruction of civilization even more psychotic. It strikes me as coming from a martyr complex than a genuine sympathy for the multitudes (possibly also the fact he seems to be a self-hating wizard).

    I was also a big fan of the character Quin. He is my sort of character in that he started with a mind full of high ideals and then decided to get drunk and laid a lot instead. He owns his flaws, which makes him a good deal more likable than his brother Branden. Merris starts as the plucky female protagonist, a mix of Harry and Hermione really, but goes down a much darker road as events show her to not possess a strong moral core. I really liked Merris' story in the book as too many people in fiction react to changing circumstances by putting their foot down. A lot of us adapt to survive in new circumstances, occasionally doing terrible things in the process. There's a bit of a "cliffhanger" in the middle of the book which is resolved with a cheat regarding her but I enjoyed it anyway.

    The book is full of action, mostly spell duels, and I have to say works very well as a kind of dark fantasy version of a D&D game. It just so happens to be a D&D game full of sex, lies, betrayal, and hell worship. The ending of the book is also a great deal more apocalyptic than I expected it to be and I appreciate the author didn't pull any punches. Not everyone makes it out alive and that saddened me because I actually grew fond enough of the group that I would have read an entire series about their adventures. That's a pretty hefty endorsement right there. World-building wise, everything is coherent and it doesn't get bogged down in the minutia like so many other authors. Two rival mage empires and a Mongol culture to the North. Boom. Got it.

    In conclusion, I recommend Darkstorm for someone who wants a quick easy-to-read fantasy epic. It condenses what other authors would have expanded to three novels into one and while some of the character developments feel a bit too swift, it still works enough that I wrote this review and have already picked up the second volume.


1 comment:

  1. That comic is from the Doom reboot which is an awesome game that you should get. Its classic Doom with a modern twist.

    Since I recommending things. I would also recommend Lucha Underground on Netflix. The best way to describe it is wrestling meets urban fantasy. They have a zombie, a dragon man, a time traveling astronaut, and a mexican ninja. Plus Aztec gods and badass normals.