3 out of 4 stars
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I was excited to pick up Don Newton’s The Prophet - Prelude: The Trial of Sa’riya as it was billed as a short story that is a prequel to his Prophet series, a series I had been considering picking up. I was not disappointed.
The Trial of Sa’riya takes place over roughly 48 hours. But there is a lot going on in those 48 hours. The very powerful Sa’riya is on trial before the other magical beings of the multiverse for the crimes of marrying a human and killing her own sister. But did she kill her sister or was it an unfortunate accident? Does the truth matter to the other magical beings or is a guilty verdict guaranteed because of the power Sa’riya represents? The person assigned to prosecute the case is the leader of the Draggons.
At the same time, Sa’riya’s husband’s people have been at war with the Draggons for generations. Their best warriors are embarking on a secret mission to kill the leader of the Draggons, in the hopes that a new Draggon leader would be someone they could negotiate a peace with. It is a plan the was devised by a god. What could go wrong?
I feel The Trial of Sa’riya needs to be evaluated on two different levels. The first way to evaluate it is as a stand-alone short story. Unfortunately, on this level, it does not succeed. The story is interesting and the characters are complex. But there are too many characters and almost no background is given for any of them. The motivations of the different members of the jury at Sa’riya’s trial are never explained. And very few of those are presented as nuanced. Mostly we see the Draggon elder who explains that the sole purpose of the trial is to find Sa’riya guilty and punish her.
There are threads (and characters) that are introduced that get dropped. I could understand that they were important but not how or why. As a short story, it was a prime example of too much (characters and plot) supported by not enough (history, world-building, character background). This was the biggest failing of the story.
The second way to evaluate The Trial of Sa’riya is as a prelude/prequel. On that level, my guess is that it succeeds beautifully. If this story were the opening chapters of a longer book, I would have fewer concerns about wanting to understand everything that was happening because I would assume that it was all going to be explained further down the line. I also make the assumption that if I had read at least the first full books in Newton’s Prophet series, I would have the character and world backgrounds needed for this to make sense. It would likely fill in a bit of the history that I was curious about. The bits of world-building that we did get to see were incredibly well done and were my favorite parts of the story.
I give The Prophet - Prelude: The Trial of Sa’riya by Don Newton three out of four stars. It had a high quality of writing and editing. (There are some italicized words that I do not agree with italicizing, but it was very obviously an editorial decision, not a mistake.) It does not get that fourth star because it is marketed as a stand-alone story, and it cannot stand alone.
I would recommend The Trial of Sa’riya to anyone who has already started Newton’s Prophet series or fantasy readers who want to read the series. There is too much complexity for the story to be suitable for younger readers, but there is nothing inappropriate in it. Older teens and adults who enjoy fantasy works will almost certainly enjoy this story if they are willing to be in it for the whole series.
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