Under a Colder Sun (Khale the Wanderer #1) by Greg James #SPFBO
Under a Colder Sun is one of the SPFBO finalists that I’ve just finished reading.
The story begins with a couple of soldiers seeking out a character called Khale to convey to him a message from the King. The kingdom of Colm is in trouble with potential attack and devastation looming from two sides. King Alosse believes that Khale can help keep war at bay and is prepared to pay – although he has no idea the true cost. Khale does indeed embark on this journey, a trek across a desolate country that will lead to a cursed city.
I started Under a Cold Son with absolutely no idea what it was about and was fairly quickly drawn in. This isn’t a long story but it definitely has a fairly solid pace and it was a quick read. I would have liked a little more substance, but, more of that follows.
The setting. Well, I’m a bit puzzled by it and I think the shortness of the story doesn’t help in that it doesn’t really give enough time for any significant world building. This is a barren place where people struggle to survive, even in some areas resorting to desperate measures for their next meal. Personally, and I could be mistaken, I gained the impression this was a post apocalyptic world. It felt like there were layers of long lost civilisations just beneath the surface and the harsh conditions were potentially the result of some sort of fallout – like I said, not entirely sure that’s correct.
The main character is Khale. Very much the anti-hero. One of those characters that starts out quite despicable and quite feared by everyone around him but then begins to soften somehow. Well, he doesn’t really soften but he definitely develops feelings that were a little unexpected. I won’t give too much away about Khale. He certainly has very strong powers and appears practically invincible. Everybody believes he is demon possessed and his yellow eyes certainly give credence to this. He has committed terrible actions in the past and is now cursed and frankly world weary to boot.
The other main characters are Leste. A soldier, in fact one of the pair that we meet at the start of the story. Leste has hopes of becoming a hero. She’s not a bad character to get along with but I never totally fell in love with her. She has this sort of loud, bravado type naivety nailed down and seems to be constantly making threats or rushing into the fray without much chance of carrying them through or winning the day. I suppose she comes across as a little ‘bark worse than bite’. Princess Milanda has led a sheltered, nay, very sheltered, existence and the reasons for that will quickly become clear. It would be easy for her to come across as simpering but in actual fact she does manage to stand up for herself and gain a little respect as the story progresses. Her story isn’t exactly brimming over with good memories and happiness though.
The plot. It’s difficult to really go into the plot not only because I don’t want to go into spoilers but also because its actually a little slim – which I suppose it understandable for a novel of this size. Let’s just say it’s a quest with swords and sorcery along the way set in a very bleak landscape with flawed characters.
In terms of criticisms. Well, before I go there – I thought the writing was good, I think it could use a little editing here and there as some chapters were really quite strong with others not so much. But, overall, I did like James’ style. I think to be blunt the world building and characterisation needs more. This is a thin book with a more chunky book inside it wanting to break out. More often than not you will hear people say ‘this could have been cut, etc, etc’, I think in this instance this should have been expanded. It feels like it wants to be epic but then somebody went and chopped out half the story. It just leaves me with a story that I quite enjoyed and was poised on the brink of really enjoying but then I just didn’t quite get that push over the edge and it ends up making me feel a bit cheated somehow. I also felt like the characters weren’t always completely true to themselves in terms of jumping around a little bit with their abilities. One minute all powerful, the next almost losing the battle. And, I wanted more show and less tell. Khale is a good example of that, we’re just told he’s all powerful but it never really feels that the promise of his power is demonstrated.
On the whole though, I did find this a good read and given the ending I would be keen to see what comes next.