1 out of 4 stars
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Let me begin this review by giving you the briefest summary of criterion that I measure all epic fantasy against. 1. Does it make me want to blast Led Zeppelin just to hear the word “Mordor” 2. Does it make me want to drink a flagon of mead while I wear a fake dwarf beard (yes, even lady dwarves can have beards) 3. Does it make me want to pretend that my cat is truly some fluffy fierce guardian of my deepest secrets (*cough*Justin Bieber post in my closet*cough*)
Now, reading The End of the Last Great Kingdom felt less like cold mead running down my beard and more like a Led Zeppelin CD skipping as my cat makes direct eye contact as he knocks my glass of mead off the coffee table.
The most frustrating part about this reaction is that this book has so much potential. For example, the plot, well the skeleton of it, is really strong and interesting. The story focuses on a boy, Leaf, struggling to fit in at his magic school. His isolation stems, mainly, from his inability to find an element that he can master and claim the title of a mage. This story has giant monsters, epic battles, political intrigue, demons, and super spunky characters. There’s corruption, redemption, and even a little romance: a recipe for an awesome fantasy that even the likes of Tolkien might tip his pipe at.
But no, my friends. We are not deserving of such a tale quite yet.
The most glaring problem with this book is its plot details and plot consistency, or lack thereof. In so many instances, the author describes a battle or action scene and includes a weapon or magical ability that has never been mentioned before. In so many cases, it’s pages, or even chapters, later that the existence of this item or ability is explained. I understand the want to build suspense, but most of the time I was left so confused that I wasn’t even that interested in the explanation when the time came. I was reminded, many times, of Hitchcock’s “bomb under the table” analogy. I would be so much more engaged in the action, and the characters, if I understood the backstory of an item, or merely its existence, before its random use. If he gave me peek or even just a hint that a character was capable of something really cool or had a super dope weapon before it was used, I’d be waiting in anticipation for them to use these super awesome abilities. Instead, I very often I found myself saying, “Where the bleep did that come from?” And often the explanation for characters’ actions or the introduction of random items occurred to explain another random plot point. At some points, it felt like the author made up weapons and abilities on the spot to get the characters out of tight spots and then think of the reason for its existence later and just stick it wherever. Weapons are not grocery store aisle coupons, Mr. Rose. You can’t just put them wherever and whenever and expect me to buy it.
Another major issue is pacing. I believe this is very closely, if not directly, related to the random introduction of plot details. A few times, we’re right in the middle of an action scene. Blood and guts everywhere, characters getting revenge and being awesome…and then… the author stops the action. Like full stop. To explain where the weapon or skill came from. I would have been totally fine if I was told before the battle he picked up this cool weapon at Walmart. But don’t stop the action to explain it. It completely ruins the tone and the pacing of the scene. It goes something like this: “Character was about to die in a horrific, bloody way. BUT WAIT here are a bunch of random elements from the history or the magic of this world I’ve NEVER EVEN MENTIONED BEFORE that are going to save him and make him the greatest hero of all time and I’m going to spend the next three paragraphs explaining these historical details. You didn’t really care about that battle anyway, right?” Well sir, not anymore. This happened over, and over, and over. And over, again.
These random elements and totally unexplained details murder this plot. These details begin as little pin holes of confusion but grow into giant plot holes. These are only deepened by the author's use of grammar. There are many, many comma issues that muddle the characters’ actions and confuse the plot. For example, this sentence makes the action very hard to understand: “He started to walk closer to [Bob] as he got ready to end him”. The use of pronouns here confuses which character is performing which action. In most of the action scenes, and there are many, the messy grammar combined with random plot elements make the whole story fall flat. And fall hard. (Name changed to prevent spoiler, there is no character named Bob in the book)
I could go on about some of my other issues with the book, such as the choice of ages of the characters. I still have no idea why they are so young. Or how a climactic battle scene is literally only two sentences. Or the use of dialogue that seems like an AI wrote it without any understanding of basic human emotions or interactions. (One character literally says, “Hey, mister”, like in Newsies) Or the scene with fireballs, which is a huge part of one of the character’s growth. Only a sentence. GIVE ME MORE FIREBALLS. Or how about the random and never explored or never commented on or never followed up on deaths of animals and children. Gore for gore’s sake doesn’t really seem to fit this book's tone.
If I take a wider lens to this author’s debut work, I can say Rose has an amazing imagination and a ton of potential as a storyteller. However, as this stands, I rate this book 1 out of 4 stars. This book is not ready for more readers. I think with a really good editor, this book could come a long way. I can not recommend this book, or give it a re-read, or give it any more stars until this angel editor: 1. cleans-up, or rather, power-washes the grammar 2. reorders the plot to remove random, misplaced, or meaningless details and scenes, or 3. does a rewrite for plot, character, and world-building consistency.
End of the Last Great Kingdom
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