By: Jai J. Mongiovi
Release Date: November 28, 2016
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Series: The Paladin Series
Received From: Jai J. Mongiovi
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
When first picking up a new book I’m always hesitant. Will I like it? Will I hate it? Will I become obsessed with it? These questions double when I am aware that the book is the start of a series. So, imagine how many questions I had when picking up this book. My reasons for hesitation, despite having come upon it as a former coworker did the cover art and knows of my fantasy obsession, really stemmed from the fact that this book is part of a proposed series. Which means, should I become obsessed, I will need to wait for the next installments. So, while I was hesitating due to my usual “getting involved in a series” questions I decided something: just go for it. I am glad I did. Read on if you want to know more about why you should read this book.
As I said, and as a form of disclaimer, I came upon this book series through personal connections. Let me be clear, though. This is an unbiased review. If it was biased I’d have left the review at “read this book, five stars” and signed off. Now, on to the meat of the review and the reasons to give this book a try.
Fantasy series are always intriguing to me. More often than not they take place in wholly imagined worlds of the author’s creation and, therefore, a lot of groundwork must be laid down for the story to not only believable (despite the fantastical themes) but also enjoyable. Jai Mongiovi has done his due diligence in this light at creating a world, characters and a story to get behind.
Setting in a series is important. How you are introduced to it matters as well. While there are a few moments of more “telling” rather than “showing” it is a pitfall of many well known fantasy series. In an effort to make sure the reader understands the world they’ve stepped in to the author does sometimes give too much description in one go and therefore, for me at least, it was a mini-lull in the the reading. However, those are not too common in this book for which I was grateful. It can also be forgiven due to the fact that this world is entirely new and there are many complexities within it that require explanation.
Equally important to setting and tied intrinsically to it is the culture of the world created. While the world of Sulveria is completely new and created by Mongiovi he succeeded in creating a culture for his characters to navigate. There are hierarchies, customs, detailed ceremonies and a history built into the world here that guided the characters in their actions. Again, while this is not perfect I was pleased to see small tips and mentions of these things throughout the book, especially as it relates to customs. In all fantasy series the customs of people dictate how they react and therefore it is paramount to create. While there could have been more credit has to be given here. Creating an entire world is difficult and daunting and Mongiovi did well in helping me understand his characters through their culture.
Where this book shined for me was with the characters. Whether we are discussing the main character Jaakob (who I will come back to shortly) or more secondary characters such as Teeland, Eduord, etc, the characters are believable, relatable and endearing. Perhaps the most endearing character for me was Edourd who appeared in the early stages of the book and therefore helped hook me into the series. Other characters have their own personalities, histories and motives. Due to this all are easy to connect with or, at the very least, understand their motivations. The decisions made by characters don’t feel “out of left field,” they follow logic and reason dictated by what we know of them and the world they live in.
Returning to the main character now, Jaakob Suncloak. Firstly, I have to say that Jaakob is not only a great choice to lead the dialogue but utterly perfect in his interactions with others given his personality. Sarcastic and the classic middle child temperament he both undermines his older brother Miikal and playfully teases but is protective of his sister Bekka. Perhaps my favorite thing about Jaakob, other than the on-point sarcasm (which frequently needs to be covered up with apologies to superiors) is his relationships to everyone around him. Jaakob, and everyone around him, has their flaws. Perfect heroes are boring. Perfect people and static characters are boring. You will not find that sort here. The added bonus of harmony between he and his siblings chosen paths (solider, prophetess, paladin) made me believe that the family was as dynamic as all families truly are.
Other fantastic things to be aware of in this book are little hints hidden in the writing. A prime example is the name Mourning Star for the huge predatory bird that accompanies Teeland. (I will not give away the reason for the spelling of the name, I’m sure you can guess, but who it connects to is simultaneously perfect and heartbreaking.) I will say that I’m a sucker for picking apart books for clues and hints, right down to the spelling.
I’ll leave the review with these final notes on the characters and their individual journeys. From the existing rivalries of characters that we come to know and understand, to the romances, to the things that the characters feel are beyond their control one thing I always enjoy about epic fantasy novels is how, eventually, all things and people tie together. What happens in one area of the world to one character can, down the line (whether that’s a day or years later) can affect another across the world. Especially in cases of epic fantasy where there are wars, rivalries, sword fights and mystical creatures I enjoy when its pieces begin fitting together like a puzzle. As this is a proposed as book one of four in a series I will say that while not everything comes together perfectly and ties off neatly in this first book, realistically everything could not be neatly tucked away as that would leave us with no reason to return to book two. At this time I can safely say I look forward to book two but will definitely re-read this book before that day comes for the pure fact that I’m sure there are Easter eggs hidden in this book that I’ll want to remember in book two.