Sins of a Sovereignty (Amernia Fallen #1) by Plague Jack
Sins of a Sovereignty is one of my SPFBO books and a book that I’ve struggled to write a review for. In one respect this is a very interesting story and I think well written but in another I found myself lacking any really strong feelings towards it. Of course this means I didn’t hate it but on the other hand I didn’t love it either. What I will say before I start the review is that I did find this quite a fascinating world and I will continue on with the second book to see how the story develops.
I think the story got off to a good start and I found myself intrigued. It soon becomes clear that Amernia is poised on the brink of war. In fact war has already hit the land, a large portion of which has been badly affected and is now uninhabitable following the use of chemical warfare. At the start we are introduced to a Knight of the land, Pendragon. It fairly soon becomes clear that Pendragon is a knight with very clear values but also a man who lives with burdens from his past. He is liked by the humans who see him as a hero but equally despised by the elves who see him as a brutal murderer. Although you get a sense that Pendragon has served his time and given his best he is once again summoned by the Queen and given a seemingly impossible task. The Blood Queen is hated and feared in equal measure. She rules with an iron fist and inequality is rife throughout the land. The elves and other non humans are treated as second class citizens. They live in squalor and are used brutally for work and sex purposes. Little wonder that the Queen is now struggling to keep a hold on everything and war sits brooding on the horizon.
The main characters of the story are the knight Pendragon, the Blood Queen, Calcifer a powerful sorcerer and a monster hunter/mercenary and Shrike, a spymaster who has been framed and is now on the run from the Queen and desperate to find out who set him up. On top of this we have the interference of the Gods who seem to become involved in the lives of certain characters. It seems like some of these characters are being used like pieces on a board game – I like the interfering god element of the story and also the way that they hand out magic.
In fact I quite liked the way that magic is simply a part of the story. There is no real explanation or system. Magic is as much a part of this world as elves and dwarves and just like their existence isn’t given any reasoning neither is the ability to wield magic.
What I liked about this book.
There are no simple lines between good and bad and I think that’s a very relevant point because mostly there is a little bit of both mixed up in most people. History is written by the victors and that is another element that stands out here. The victors have definitely committed crimes of which they are not proud. The previous wars have left parts of the landscape shrouded in a deadly green fog that renders the land uninhabitable and huge numbers of people were slaughtered through chemical warfare.
The author isn’t afraid to take risks or include touchy subjects, for example incest, and he certainly isn’t gentle with his characters. We also have a strange mash up of mediaeval and more modern technology – I think the author, on the whole makes a good effort of combining the old and the new here although I couldn’t help thinking two men walk into a fight, one with a gun, one with a sword – what happens next. Well, the whole ‘dodge this’ scenario from The Matrix springs to mind. Basically I’m not too sure how well the two sit together in some respects and no matter how well written there’s always an element at the back of your mind that is going to niggle about that fact.
In terms of my other niggles or criticisms. Well, some of the things I really liked also were some of the things that I really didn’t like! Strange I know – and undoubtedly my mood at the time of reading could have played a part. The world is very dark and brutal – not a nice place to live at all. The problem with this is that the author does such an excellent job of portraying just how awful it is it also becomes a bit, well, awful to read. I wanted a little bit of something good, just anything, a scrap – but it wasn’t forthcoming. The only really light parts of the book were the occasional pieces of humour thrown into the piece by Shrike’s sarcasm, usually whilst he was being tortured, and it just didn’t feel enough to lighten the mood.
Also, and simply put, I found it difficult to really like anybody, which is probably just as well because as I said above the author is fairly ruthless with his characters. Even so, I wanted somebody to like and it felt difficult, particularly after a number of deaths towards the end.
The other aspect. Well, this is grimdark, a word that gets thrown around a lot at the moment. I can’t help feeling that there is a general sense that unless you’re shocking your reader into dumb speechlessness then they won’t love your book. Frankly, that’s not the case for me personally. I think there’s a very fine line that can easily be crossed where you give your readers this gritty realism but you go so far with it that they’re reading but not with as much enjoyment as they would do if there was some light mixed in with the dark. Of course, again, this is prone to mood I think at the time of reading.
I hope that doesn’t sound too critical. I really like what the author has achieved with certain elements of this book. I would have appreciated a little more light but I am keen to see where this goes next. On finishing, I don’t really have a clear view on who I like or want to win the day and maybe this is a good thing – perhaps the author is doing something a little groundbreaking here – there are no clear cut lines and it will be interesting to see what happens next.