The Sworn

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Sworn
Gail Z. Martin, 2011

New Release! Copy provided by Netgalley for review.

Premise: King Matris Drayke of Margolan has barely recovered from deposing his patricidal brother and assuming the throne when a new threat approaches. Worshippers of death and chaos are on the rise throughout the region, dark rumors circulate about invasion from abroad, and the dead themselves are frightened enough to warn the young summoner-king and his friends: prepare for war.

I have only one quibble with The Sworn, but it's not a small one: it's not nearly as good a jumping-on point for this world as the marketing push would have you believe. If you are in the mood for some good epic fantasy, you might enjoy, as I did, the experience of catching up, but there is serious catching-up to do.

The author has written four previous books set in this world, dealing with most of the same characters. The prologue of The Sworn summarizes these books in a brain-numbing flood of names and events, and if I hadn't already read and enjoyed the first chapter, I might have put the book down right then. In the book proper, there are at least five major characters and/or pairs of characters, following plotlines taking place in different kingdoms and cities, and it took me a long time to get involved in the stories that had the most history. The characters who seemed to have been created for this book were the ones I found most immediately approachable.

I was surprised at how widely the focus of the plot ranged across all the different characters, I suppose because I've been reading a lot of narrowly focused first-person narratives recently. The plots were starting to pull together by the end (at least into a few main threads), and I'm certain they will continue to do so in the sequels. This is true epic fantasy: dealing delicately with multiple threads simultaneously, the armies of good ranged against the forces of darkness, and the doings of kings and warriors.

The only reason the wide-ranging plot was a problem for me was that I kept being introduced to new characters and plotlines before I'd gotten a handle on the ones I had already read. It was chapter eight before the book returned to the characters I'd liked so much in chapter one.

I have to say that to my surprise, the use of vampires and werewolves in place of other fantasy races works really well. They slip beautifully into a supernatural spectrum that includes a very present spirit world, elemental and ghost-based magic, shamanism, and a well-explored system of goddess-worship.

By the end of the book, I was invested in all of the characters, and had a hard time putting it down. I really like the world, and I like the plot, although there's nothing groundbreaking about it.

Overall, I enjoyed this book as a solid, original, large-scale fantasy. I'll watch for the next one, now that I know the characters, and perhaps in the meantime I'll go back and read the previous books. Unfortunately, I didn't really start loving it until about half-way through, and so I can only give it

3 Stars – A Good Book. However, this is a special case. If you're familiar with the characters already from reading the earlier books, consider it 4 Stars.

Buy The Sworn on
Or possibly start with The Summoner?

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