06 November, 2009

Review: Servant of a Dark God

Servant of a Dark God (2009) [US][UK] is John Brown’s debut, which straddles both the Epic and Gritty subgenres. It is a dark, complex, and ambitious fantasy novel filled with bigotry, ancient magic, and secret societies in which nothing is as it seems.

The world in which Servant of a Dark God is set leaves, paradoxically, both little and much to the imagination. An obscure, ancient, and repressed history in which Old Gods and Divines pitted themselves against one another has left in its place a rigidly hierarchical society on the verge of defeat at the hands of mysterious and murderous Bone Faces. As with the great majority of epic fantasy, Servant of a Dark God begins with the tale of Talen, the youngest of three siblings struggling to find his place in a world in which racism ( ‘clanism’ is perhaps more appropriate) has made of his people second-class citizens. The novel’s socio-political setting resonates deeply with that of Europe during the Dark Ages, in which the Church (Divines in this novel) controlled, suppressed, and yet ironically preserved society.

For all the diverse perspectives, Servant of a Dark God has a definite sense of direction and focus that gives the story a healthy sense of momentum. While the novel showcases both the magical and mundane, the question of social status and prejudice receives a significant and slightly over-abundant amount of attention, as it is generally a more implicit aspect of world building. Regardless, the adventures of Talen, his family, and a certain magical cabal make for a wild ride that is sure to have you hoping the next installment would come out sooner – and you will be happy to know that, much like Rothfuss, Mr. Brown has already completed the series. Let us just hope that his re-writes don’t take as long…

Tia, in her review of Servant of a Dark God, eloquently notes the unique approach that Mr. Brown takes towards his characters: “All are important,” and indeed, she could not be more right. Nevertheless, while the characters have a fair amount of depth, I had significant difficulty getting attached to any of them. The erratic point of view, Jordanesque in its meanderings, fails to capture the reader’s soul, but does manage to sustain one’s interest. Talen, the young brother who you will intuitively assume to be the ‘fated’ archetypal savior, is instead quite contrary, steeped in self-doubt, and heavily mired in the ‘false’ religious beliefs of his fellow countrymen. A far cry from the gray characters of gritty fantasy or the nobility of those which belong to the epic genre, Talen is instead a brown character.

An issue with Servant of a Dark God is that the reader learns early on that the views of the protagonists are, quite simply, wrong. The lack of layering, knowledge dumps, and relative omniscience provided by the multiple perspectives tend, sadly, to remove much of the suspense from the narrative. What remains is, nevertheless, a compelling story that lays down a significant foundation for the next installment to build upon. As Elitist Book Reviews points out, and I have alluded to, "there is no epic quest in this epic fantasy". The story is imbued with a healthy dose of realism and enough magic and action to keep things interesting. As such, Mr. Brown is a trailblazer of sorts, melding both truth and mystery in a distinctly unique fantasy.

In sum, fellow reader, Servant of a Dark God rides a delicate balance between the life of every day and the compelling action of quicker paced narratives. A dangerous choice of direction, but one which author John Brown executes with much diligence. My hopes are high for the next installment, good sir, so you had best not disappoint!


ediFanoB said...

One more book for my list. Your good review intrigued me.
A character who is neither gray nor noble, that sound interesting. I need to discover brown characters.

ediFanoB said...

@Fiona Robyn,
I have had a look at your Blogsplash. As far as I understood your topic is far beyond fantasy and science fiction.
For myself I must say it will be interesting for people who like your kind of fiction but not for me. Don't get me wrong I don't disparage your writing.
Anyway I wish you good luck.

Josh Carr Superstar said...

I read this book a few weeks ago and loved it. It has gotten a lot of good reviews since then.

I am not a professional book/reviewer or reader but I do read a lot (at least a book a week) and this book and it's characters have really stuck with me. I loved this book and I couldn't put it down.

One of my favorite characters is Hunger (he is depicted on the cover as the big scary dude) it's not often that you feel as much of a connection with the villain as the hero.

I am very excited for book 2 and 3 (he is supposed to do one per year so we don't have to wait forever between books so that is cool)

John Brown also has a great blog - you should check it out. http://johndbrown.com/novels/