I'll preface this by saying that now I know how my mom feels when she reads fantasy...you know how some books just don't click with you? Well, now I can see why Mom doesn't "get" the genre, because I had trouble following this one. (Just glancing through the Goodreads reviews tells me I'm not alone, so I feel a little less stupid.) I also got to review these two books while dealing with an apartment flood, so that may not have helped so much.
The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer
Ridiculously simplified summary: In 1300s England, an orphan is prophesied to take the impenetrable castle of Magnus. With no one but a knight, an eleven-year-old thief, and a mysterious, beautiful woman to aid him, can he succeed in his quest?
Content: Religion is for the most part portrayed negatively, until near the end, and there's still not much of it. Overall light violence (at least two folks get hit in the crotch, and at least one act appears much worse than it turns out to be). But until a turnabout in the end, I didn't notice the protagonist being at all bothered by violence. From the start, I was irritated by the negative portrayal of overweight people (who were historically, and noted in the book itself, considered attractive).
Compelling: 4 out of 10. I had a very difficult time discerning the motivations of the main characters. The reason I agreed to review this book was because it was on the blog tour (which is always fun) and the first few lines drew me in:
Amidst the shouting and haggling in the crowded and filthy market square, two women appeared to be examining the quality of spun wool.Most of the rest of the book is nothing like this (in my opinion), focusing on completely different characters and even changing in tone. I've heard authors aren't supposed to use prologues anymore, since many readers skip them...but this is as good a case for a prologue as any, because I would have known what I was in for.
Neither was a woman.
And neither cared about the wool.
At any rate, I didn't know what was going on, wasn't sure what characters wanted or why they wanted it, and overall just kind of muddled through this one. If I hadn't agreed to review this for the blog tour, I actually would've stopped sometime well before chapter 10.
The author seems to eventually acknowledge that the reader is left with questions--about three-quarters through the book, Thomas ruminates on all the questions that we, as readers, also have. And as the end approaches, some mysteries are resolved in a compelling manner and other mysteries are explained. I thought the book finished much stronger than it started. I don't mind some mysteries--quite a few are present at the end of the book--but I need to have SOME answers, and it took way too long for me to get to any.
Characters: 3 out of 10. Again, I couldn't follow the motivations, which means that I can't follow what characters want or why they want it--and it's difficult to engage with characters who aren't instantly likable or humorous, when you don't know what they want.
Through most of the novel, I actively disliked the protagonist, Thomas. Soon after the book starts, he attacks the (admittedly corrupt) monks for whom he'd been working as a slave, with practically no sympathy for what becomes of any of them. Later on he throws acid in the face of two men (substantially later, it comes out that this acid only causes temporary blindness, not permanent blindness and deformity--but by then his integrity was hopelessly damaged in my mind). I just found him very unlikable, probably due to his initial violence to get his way over a cause that I didn't even believe in. Maybe he is the kind of character that's supposed to start out rough and get better by the end, but I couldn't find much to like until well more than half the book had passed.
Other characters, like the knight William, held things so close to their chests that I had a hard time caring what they were up to, since I didn't understand what they were doing or why they were doing it.
The less-important characters were pleasant enough, with the boy thief and Katherine being likable, if not groundbreaking.
Writing/editing: 6 out of 10. I saw nothing wrong with the writing style itself, aside from some abrupt point of view shifts within scenes (often accepted for fantasy, but something new writers are told to avoid, and not my favorite). But the way the story was revealed (or in many cases not) did not work for me at all. While I enjoyed the idea of how Thomas could win Magnus nearer to the end, I found some of those descriptions muddled and confusing.
Plausibility/believability: 3 out of 5. I felt like I got a fairly good sense of this medieval world (which was only VERY lightly speculative...almost every speculative element seemed to me to be plant-based). I didn't really get a sense of characters as behaving as if they were people of the day, but maybe that's part of the speculative.
Positive: 3 out of 5. It ended much more positively than it began, though I still have a bad taste in my mouth about the treatment of the overweight and even the disfigured.
Gut reaction: 3 out of 5. I'm glad it got better at the end...from the first half, I was very much dreading reading the second book the publisher generously gave us. (And frankly, I am starting to suspect the publisher purposely provided Book 2--shipped separately nonetheless--specifically because it promises to be a much better read than this book.)
Bonus points: 5 out of 5.
Recommended for: Hardcore fans of medieval stories...through this book, no love of fantasy (or Christian fiction) required, in my opinion.
Total Rating: 2.7 out of 5 stars
*In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
Check out the other participants in the blog tour!
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Megan @ Hardcover Feedback
Rebecca LuElla Miller