3 out of 4 stars
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A Kingdom Forgotten by Charles W. McDonald Jr. is the first book in the ongoing series A Throne of Souls. It is a complex tale spanning many worlds and crossing many traditional boundaries of science fiction and fantasy. As a result, it is hard to classify the book into any single genre like dystopian fantasy or epic fantasy. The book is pretty long, so buckle up for an extended reading session.
The narrative of this book focusses on two main plotlines. One follows the actions of a lamean (wizard) called Damon who is labouring to accomplish his very secret master plan. The other section devotes itself to the actions of Radin and the prophecy of his planet’s ending. To tell the stories the author jumps across time and space. There are frequent sojourns to ‘Very Long Ago’ and ‘Near Future’ as well as constant inter-planetary hopping. Since this book is part of a series, quite a few of the tantalising secrets remain to be explored in future books. The story itself is masterfully constructed, with a variety of seemingly insignificant details ending up as important pieces of the puzzle. I loved the small clues to the larger story that the author leaves all over the place. Therefore, I will refrain from telling you too much of the story to avoid spoilers and to save the enjoyment for the readers. Suffice to say that it is an epic tale with tremendous scope.
One of the best things about this book is the quality of world-building. The author does a masterful job of world-building and creates a diverse and vibrant set of worlds that are a pleasure to read about. There are visceral differences between the various worlds and this change of scenery makes them exciting. One other aspect of the books that I really liked was the moral complexity of the characters. I prefer complex, multifaceted characters and the author delivers. There are no simplistic heroes and villains in this tale! For example, Damon is well-known across many worlds for killing untold numbers of people. As the reader, we are constantly repelled by the atrocities he commits, only to be drawn to him as he shows softer aspects of himself. My one problem with the book’s characterisation was the lack of development for the side characters. There are a lot of them and many of them such as Elise and Adena seem fascinating and have potential. Yet, at the end of the book, I still know very little about them. Perhaps this is intentional and the author plans to develop them over the course of future books. However, I believe that organic growth of characters even when they are not the focus of the story would be far more effective than focussing on characters only when they are pivotal to the story.
Characterisation aside, the major problem I had with the book was the pacing. The first quarter (or third) of the book was extremely haphazard. It was impossible to make sense of what was going on because of the sheer number of simultaneous plots. While I understand the difficulty of introducing a reader to a huge literary universe, a complex story and a multitude of characters, the book could be greatly improved by making the first portion more reader-friendly. There is a real danger of scaring away readers who might otherwise enjoy the book. Moreover, while I liked the story and setting, this book would certainly not be for readers who prefer not to think too hard while reading fiction. It is an involved story where readers need to pay attention to subtle hints to know what is going on.
The writing style of the author is excellent, especially when he narrates a battle sequence. It is a reflection of the ability of the author to keep the complex narrative clearly in his mind and present it as a cogent narrative. That said, I cannot say the same about the author’s writing of the romantic elements of the book. The complexity that I appreciated so much is missing here. Quite a few of these, especially Damon's romances, felt forced and unnecessary. They did not fit well into the larger narrative and should be reworked into more appropriate places.
The only other aspects I wish to point out in this review are relatively minor. First would be the naming of the spells. The author invests a great deal of effort in coming up with concepts for spells, but the extremely prosaic naming lessens the impact of all that. Names like Damon’s Big Boom and Damon’s Far Reaching were the norm and were pretty disappointing. Finally, there were a few grammatical and typographical errors in the book. I only noticed half a dozen or so, which I felt was understandable for a book of this size. As a result, they were only a mild irritant to me and did not detract significantly from the quality of the book.
In conclusion, I give this book 3 out of 4 stars. I loved the storyline and the built-in complexity as well as the strength of the universe. If the pacing of the first half is fixed and the supporting characters are fleshed out a little bit more, the book could easily be far better.
A Kingdom Forgotten
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