Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Review | The Overlord Rising: Dragon Touched - E W. Scott

I think all reviewers are a little wary of small press fiction. That category has provided some reads I couldn't even finish (for me a rarity) - but also a fair amount of briliant fiction. Thankfully, The Overlord Rising falls more into the latter category.

If you've ever read Michael J Sullivan's Riyria Revelations novels, you'll know what I mean when I say that traditional fantasy can still be done well - very well, in fact. And The Overlord Rising goes further to prove the point. It's an epic in a more traditional vein than those I've read recently: following for the most part the family of a Duke, Nolan, and featuring a cast of nobles and townsmen, a hinted-at larger, possibly-returning villain (the Overlord - who, fingers crossed, will subvert a few more expectations to avoid the cliches), and naturally, the Duke's children: Wren and Sara being the two we see most frequently.

Before you start muttering about deja vu (or at least deja lus),Wren evades the 'rebellious princess' archetype - her father is (gasp!) actually supporting her as heir, and martial training is part of that. By contrast, Sara is her mother's daughter, raised in the Csillite faith. Which, naturally, demands that all touched by magic be burned. It's a familiar construct, but Scott fleshes it out - and by the novel's end, there are clues that there's more to the Csillite faith than a radical church. Both, as well as Nolan and his spouse Mirabel, become dragged into a growing conflict when Wren herself consumes dragon's blood - leaving her both blessed and cursed by the new gift. A King powerless to stop the feuding, Mirabel's own Csillite beliefs, and conspiracies in the neighbouring duchies all contribute to the struggle - and trust me, it's unpredictable. I'd elaborate, but it's difficult to do so without spoilers.

Which is a good thing. Traditional fantasy worlds suffer most from the twin evils of familiar, even cliched tropes, and predictability. Give me a farmboy dumb enough, and I'll guess he'll rule the world - and nine times out of ten, he'll have a secret destiny, a hidden heritage, or whichever synonym you care for. The Overlord Rising averts this. One thing it doesn't possess, however, is much ambiguity: while some conflicts are more subtle, there are some clear villains of the tale. (Though the relationship between Nolan and his wife is never so black and white when they come into conflict - both are flawed). And once in a while, that's nice. Not all fantasy needs to be grittily grey-versus-grey like Martin, and sometimes we like a clearer - if not too black/white - conflict.

A minor qualm was formatting - particularly the map at the novel's beginning seemed a little rough (in a 'just scanned' way) - but this wasn't a major issue.

That's not to say the novel is perfect. It does suffer from some predictable (or at least well-known) elements if you're familiar with traditional fantasy worlds, and the setting - a similar medievalesque Europe analogue to the conventional - isn't the most original. Nevertheless, this is an entertaining read: a fantasy in the older vein minus the cliche. Likeable characters, an engagingly unpredictable plot, and a weighty sequel hook - what's not to like?

I'll certainly be waiting for the sequel.

4 comments:

  1. Ahh I'm so glad you enjoyed this one :) I thought it was a real gem of a find. Am really looking forward to book 2.

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    1. I admit, your review was half the reason I accepted the request - so thanks for that, since it turned out such a great read!

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  2. Thanks for the tip. I always love revisiting the traditional fantasy . . . I was actually scouring my shelves last night looking for something with that kind of feel.

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    1. I have to agree - no matter how much I enjoy the original settings which have emerged in recent years, sometimes a more traditional feel is what you want.

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