2 out of 4 stars
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We are Voulhire: A New Arrival under Great Skies by Matthew Tysz is a fantasy novel based in an alternate universe. The setting of this alternate universe is a blend of medieval and modern fantasy. The book starts with the story of our main character, Galen Bray, and takes us through his escape from the war-torn Lands of the Princes, his—now former—home. Galen heads to Voulhire knowing nothing about the new country except that he is eternally grateful to it for the refuge it provides him with.
But Galen is not the only main character in this book, and if I'm being honest, he didn't even seem like the main character. There were so many main characters.
If you (like me), having read the synopsis, walk into this story expecting to read about a refugee in a fantasy world, you'll be disappointed. This book is not about a single refugee character, it is about, as its title suggests, Voulhire and its many characters. I've seen a lot of reviews comparing this book to the Game of Thrones, and yes, it is quite a lot like it (maybe too much like it).
As I mentioned earlier, there are many characters in this story. The author switches perspectives every chapter, so you get quite close to some of them. And the characters are fairly credible, each comes with their own story woven into the bigger plot. But unfortunately, none of them I found particularly likeable; they weren't bad, but like I said, not particularly likeable.
When you look at the size of the book, 139 pages, it sounds too short to accommodate more than one or two main characters, which was absolutely the case with this book. Of its 20 chapters, only 8 are narrated by the 'main character'. The narration keeps switching perspectives and, given that this book is about this big complex country called Voulhire, most of it is just setting out the scene—there wasn't an awful lot of story.
This book is the first in a series about Voulhire, but it would've made more sense had it been part one inside book one, from where part two contains more story than introductions.
But that's not even my biggest problem with the story. My biggest problem is the villains. Their motives do not make sense. As characters themselves, they were entertaining, creepy and all that cool stuff; I could buy them. But as villains who seek chaos and destruction? No, they didn't fit the bill. It felt as though the author has spent so long in this universe that everything makes sense to him. So, when he put it to paper, he left out a few details because for him, it didn't need to be said, while for me, it made me scratch my head a few times.
The writing was engaging, albeit better in some areas than others. I came across some very well written passages with lines like these:
"Keep your head low, but your eyes ahead. Keep your mind on earth, but your heart among the stars. May you never feel shame, and always walk among those who love you."
"Death lurks at every doorway in the Lands of the Princes. After a while, you learn to defy its influences."
But there were times when the narration and dialogue seemed a bit awkward given the worldbuilding around them. The elements the author brought together for this universe are very interesting and I imagine that the ideas can fit well too, but just the way he delivered them didn't flow quite as naturally as would be desirable. And this isn't problematic in the writing alone, but also the worldbuilding which leaves around a few gaps (like how do they have railway but no guns? If mages are so powerful, why do they work for humans?).
As for the formatting of the book and editing, it was good. But I do wish that the pdf copy came with some navigation and that the chapters were numbered.
I rate this book 2 out of 4. I liked reading this book but, in the end, it didn't make for what I'd call 'a wholesome read'.
Still, I think many others (those not as skeptical as I) will enjoy it. I’d recommend this book to those who like reading about fantasy kingdoms and fictious politics. Especially to those who read series that produce new books on a monthly basis, because I think that is what the author is doing with this series. The story does contain a few dark themes and would do well among mature readers.
We are Voulhire: A New Arrival under Great Skies
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