Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Review: Once We Were Kings by Ian Alexander

Once We Were Kings (The Sojourner Saga, Book 1)
by Ian Alexander
Release Date: March 1st, 2011
2011 Dawn Treader Publications
Ebook Edition; 490 Pages
ISBN: 978-0-98445261-3
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from Partners in Crime

Two kingdoms, five centuries, one destiny.

Render, an orphan from the outskirts of the culturally enlightened Kingdom of Valdshire Tor, escapes slavery and seeks the truth about his true identity only to discover a web of conspiracies. This quest leads to the revelation of his uncanny ability to wield the destructive forces of nature.

Ahndien, sole survivor of a heinous raid on her peaceful village in the Eastern Kingdom of Tian Kuo, embarks on a journey to find her father, now a captive of Torian troops. What she uncovers surpasses anything she can imagine as she masters the ability to manipulate fire.

Guided by shape-shifting spirits, Render and Ahndien’s fates collide when first they meet as mortal enemies. However, to save their people from annihilation, they must unite both kingdoms against a terrifying enemy that threatens to destroy both realms.

My Thoughts
Once We Were Kings, dubbed an epic fantasy, was a pleasure to read.  Full of intrigue, suspense, action, romance, and mystery, I was immediately drawn into its world and its characters, staying up much later than I should have in order to finish.  

One of the things I really enjoyed in this novel was the lack of a clearly defined evil entity; while there was a clearly defined Good versus Evil, and Heaven versus Hell, if a character believed in themselves and stayed true to their faith, they would eventually triumph over evil.  If a character performed truly evil acts, it was because they lost their faith and the way.  With tones of redemption and finding salvation, the religious aspect was interpreted and included in such a way that would not offend anyone who has issues with religion in their novels.  The character development and the lessons learned for all of the characters often had me catching my breath and waiting to see what was in store next for our wayward characters.  Upon reflection though, I do realize that a lot of the development was more on a superficial level and I would like to see the author take the development to a much deeper level in future novels.  What do I mean by this?  I would really like to get to know them much more personally than I feel I did, to really feel that empathy and connection, and there is a lot of potential here to do that.

Render and Ahndien were truly enjoyable characters, both of whom were strong yet strangely sensitive at the same time.  Each of these two characters grows up in each other's enemy territory and one of the lessons learned for each of them is to learn to trust each other and realize that the other is not the vile and evil creature they were taught to believe.  The intervening storyline was quite fascinating and I enjoyed it quite a bit as they were getting to know each other better.   It definitely brought some interesting sparks and liveliness to the novel.  

The descriptions in this novel were quite good and I could imagine myself in this world quite easily.  It also didn't take me long to figure out the political and social aspects of the world; some novels are so convoluted that it often takes novels before you figure where things are or even who everyone is and often need an index to sort it all out, but the world building was somewhat simpler here and because of this, the world came to life before my eyes.  Sometimes simpler is better as you can focus more on the story and not on who's who.  The only catch to this is that it made the plot sometimes feel a little bit too predictable and despite some twists and turns, I could often figure out what was going to happen.  It didn't lessen the reading pleasure, but a few surprises would have been nice too.

Once We Were Kings was a pleasure to read.  I enjoyed the character development tremendously, but would like to see the characters taken to a much deeper and more personal level in order to really feel that connection and empathy.  While the plot was pleasurable and interesting, it was somewhat predictable, but the potential for this series to really grow and expand is enormous.  For anyone looking for a fun and interesting fantasy novel, I highly recommend Once We Were Kings.