Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book #64

This review first appeared at the Spirit Blade blog.

Sword of the Six, by Scott Appleton.

The first scene in Swords of the Six features a terrific battle, with plenty of weapon blows, blood, and deaths. The climax of the novel features a similar action scene, also of the unsafe and unsterilized variety. These two bookend scenes are the strengths of the novel.

The mighty white dragon Albino, faithful servant of the Creator, has waited a thousand years to set his children on a quest of justice, to set right past betrayals. All six of his new hatchlings are daughters, and their dragon-human heritage makes them critical parts of a prophecy that promises a deliverer to the dark worlds beyond the dragon's peaceful kingdom. The girl's rusted swords still drip with the blood of the innocents the weapons have slain in the past. A message of the power inherent in the blood is woven subtly through the story. When the girls are teens, they are dispatched on their mission of both mercy and justice, and they find themselves facing unheard of dangers.
The world that Appleton presents is complex and multi-layered. The intelligent dragon Albino is a well-drawn character, and his multiples roles as prophet, warrior, and parent round out his personality. Although I would have liked to have known exactly how he sired his human-dragon hybrid daughters. That's a legitimate question that from what I could tell is never addressed, much less answered.
And the book has many other great creations. There is MiverÄ“, a fairy who serves as protector and helper to Dantress, the leader among Albino's daughters. The spectral character called Specter is also a unique take on the idea of the King's mysterious servant / secret agent type of character. My favorite fantastical characters are the talking birds Hasselpatch and Seviar. These are intelligent, faithful Nuvitors, companions  who serve and protect Ilfedo, who eventually becomes Dantress' love interest. The couple is brought together after seeing each other in dreams. It is in this relationship that the book's strongest theme, that of self-sacrifice, manifests.
For all of these positive aspects, the novel does have some weaknesses. Its heritage as a self-published novel is apparent more than once, with some moments of odd grammar and I had some issues with word choices. You get the sense that one more professional edit would have come in handy.
But the biggest problem I had with the book is a confession that the author makes in the preface: That this novel is merely the prologue to the story he wants to tell, and that he "had not intended to" write this one. And I think I could see that -- for an epic fantasy in an epic fantasy world, not a lot happens, except for world-building and the setting in motion of a larger plot. The world and characters do intrigue me enough for me to continue with the series, but this volume may have been better positioned as a prequel, released to more fully explain the history of the world and characters after the epic story itself has been told, the story Appleton really wants to tell.
Note: I received this book as a reviewer for the Spirit Blade podcast, who recieved it directly form the author.

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