Score: 96/100 (9.6 out of 10)
This fantasy novel is the epitome of what a fantasy novel should be: great heroes, great villains, high stakes, and big battles!
Just when we thought we had this contest pretty much figured out with several terrific fantasy entries scoring between 9.3 and 9.4, we read this and said, “Well... dang. Shoot. Darn it.” What's ironic is that we almost felt like giving up on this novel part-way through. However, we thankfully forced ourselves to push through in hopes of getting to the “good part.” We didn't realize we were about to hit a gold mine under that sand and dirt! There was about to be a truckload of good parts!
The first 100 pages of this book can be surprisingly boring for someone who is desensitized to fantasy fiction at this point. It sounds like it's going to be the same old generic tale we've heard a thousand times: a chosen-one hero with a tragic backstory and overpowered abilities trying to save a kingdom of generic and mostly-useless side characters and a sick queen/princess under a sleeping curse who needs her one true love to get her out of it. There are some examples of wrong-word usage, such as when “regardless” is used instead of “despite.” The writing isn't as beautiful and eloquent as Michael DeAngelo's (in “D'Aprille's Fools”) and the world-building is not quite as complex as Joanne Reid's (in “Gilraen and the Prophecy:) or Emilie Knight's (in “The Ichorian Epics”), but when Mammina does his thing, it really works. When this book picks up, it REALLY picks up.
The following 400-500 pages of this includes some of the best storytelling and character moments we've ever read! It also includes the best battle (actually two battles) we've read about in a while! That's right, you're treated to not just one but TWO all-or-nothing battles in the same book. And when we say “all-or-nothing” we mean that people will die or suffer fates worse than death if the heroes are unsuccessful. What makes these battles so great is that not only are the stakes truly high and we care about them, but they have a fantastic build-up. All the pieces are moved into place before the battle as in protagonists develop beef (a feud) with antagonists before the battle, and we already know what many of the characters are capable of and what they want beforehand. Every character brings something to the table. Every character cares about something/someone. Every character dislikes or hates something/someone. Most importantly, every character WANTS something.
Another thing that makes these battles amazing is that every single major protagonist and antagonist has a moment or two to shine. Not to spoil too much, but for example: a character named Predella executes a one-in-a-million shot heard around the world, and a character named Eric essentially becomes a Sith in hopes of defeating the Sith with his newfound Darkside powers (and we all know where that leads). And that last example brings up another thing that makes this novel great: the gray characters, the layers, and the complexity. Good and evil aren't always clear-cut, there are characters like Eric who are on the edge or daring to cross the threshold. Even our main hero, Michael Miuriell, is on the verge of becoming the very thing he sought to destroy, and not in a lame Rey Skywalker sorta way. There are even times when we hate the very people we should be wanting our protagonists to help, namely the politicians. For example, the “sibling sovereigns” Lucas and Luca are two titanic pains in the rear-end. They constantly demonstrate ingratitude and an unwillingness to help the very army of protagonists who saved and protected them. We can imagine some readers will feel the same annoyance with characters like Princess Shina, but we didn't mind her nearly as much. What's amazing is that the author gives us, the reader, some relief by allowing protagonists to vent their shared frustrations at Lucas and Luca.
Another great reason to love this novel are the villains: the Demon Plague. They are despicable! The reader will absolutely love to hate them.
This is one of the best casts of villains in any book out there. Like the heroes, there's not just one overpowered evil villain who is clearly the one we're supposed to hate, there are many, and they're all unique in their own way. The villain who stood out the most to us was Sattka. She isn't the most powerful of the demons, but she is by far the best looking (humorously), most charismatic, and the one who gets up close and personal most of the time. She is capable and formidable enough for many of the protagonists to be wary of her in the final battles with them essentially saying (to paraphrase), “We need to keep Sattka in check.” She also has some great and disturbing villain moments that force us to cheer against her despite her appeal. Some of these may be too disturbing for some readers. She's not alone among the great villains. There's also the enormously powerful Valkris, Tenebrion, and the Demon Lord, the latter of which makes things very personal with our main protagonist by literally getting in his head. There's even an awesome evil vampire general named Kaila who has her moments. These villains constantly keep our heroes on their toes and force them out of their comfort zones.
And is it just us or are these some of the hottest characters in any book ever? The princes, princesses, and warriors sound hot. Even the demons and vampires sound hot! For some reason, the author felt the need to describe them all in this really sensualized way whether if it was relevant to the plot or not. There are so many descriptions of the villains/villainesses doing disturbing yet intimate-sounding villain/villainess things like savoring every moment of sucking the life out of their victims. Sattka is always dressed like she's ready for a night on the town. We know this because the author makes a point of telling us about how she dresses and how seductively she moves. Princess Shina, just by virtue of how her character is written in the story, comes across as incredibly appealing if not the most appealing in the whole book. The same can be said about Maxim among the men.
Lastly, Michael Miuriell is a terrific protagonist. Like Gilraen in “Gilraen and the Prophecy,” he is incredibly gifted with his powers and well-respected. Like Penn in “The Ichorian Epics,” he is driven and stubborn yet no less human with concern for the welfare of others. Like Frederic in “D'Aprille's Fools,” he has experienced a loved one being taken from him and is haunted by the thoughts of what has become of them. Also like Frederic, he has an unmistakable drive to do the right thing even if it means postponing the main mission.
There's too much good to say about this book!
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