Friday, May 14, 2010

Servant of a Dark God

I was excited to get a copy of this book and read it. I met John D. Brown at the 2010 LTUE. He gave a two-hour seminar called How to Write a Story That Rocks, which he presented with Larry Correia. It was awesome.

I’m going to stop rating books on a scale of one to five. In my opinion, three stars is a good solid score, but I can’t give a good book a three out of five without sounding like I hated it. I will, however, continue my nun-rating—that’s just hilarious.

A monster named Hunger is wandering the countryside eating the souls of people. Hunger is like—well, he’s a soul-sucking golem…of sorts. Guess you’ll have to read the book for yourself. Brown borrows from Beowulf, and puts many parallels between Hunger and Grendel into his story.

Hunger has a good deal of inner conflict, which makes him a fascinating villain. In spite of his being an indestructible abomination, you identify with him and you start rooting for him as he tries to break free of the Mother, who controls him.

Yes, Hunger has a Mother. He also gets his arm ripped off.

The dialog in this story had good tension, and I very much enjoyed the repartee. I’ll give full marks for that aspect.

Talen, the main character, was likeable. He is intelligent, and his sense of conscience keeps him from doing anything too stupid (he spends a good deal of the book working against the plot).

I very much enjoyed the scene where Talen and Sugar kiss. Talen’s father is hiding Sugar and her younger brother from the Shoka warriors. Talen thinks Sugar is an evil deceptive Sleth hatchling, and he is very much afraid of her. The Shoka are coming to search the farm and Sugar decides to pretend that she and Talen are lovers. Sugar is the first girl he’s ever kissed, and…well, go read it for yourself. Hilarious.

The other characters are very likeable, but it took me a while to warm up to them. I don’t mind two or three points of view, but this story has seven. It’s agonizing to get wrenched from one POV to the next.

I particularly liked the way the Shoka warriors weren’t just faceless thugs. Talen and his friends knew many of them by name. These people all grew up together, and they were familiar with each other’s personality quirks. I found a really good model to emulate in the way Brown pulled this off. I’m going to try and remember this trick in my own writing.

Another thing I liked about this story is that the characters were ordinary people. I’m really tired of reading about nobility, about lost heirs, about bored princesses—all that has been so done to death. Servant was fairly refreshing in that aspect.

Brown does a good job in this area. He spent a lot of time researching medieval life, and was familiar with the tools of the day and the names for the simple everyday objects the people used. There was a scene that took place at sea. I could tell that Brown did a lot of research to make sure he got all the language and terminology right.

I love a good opening hook, and Servant of a Dark God scores well:

Talen sat at the wooden table in nothing but his underwear because he had no pants. Somehow, during the middle of the night, they had walked off the peg where he’d hung them. And he’d searched high and low. The last of their cheese was missing as well.

The cheese he could explain: if you were hungry and a thief, then cheese would be a handy meal to take. But it was not the regular poverty-striken thief who roamed miles off the main roads, risked entering a house, and passed up many other fine and more expensive goods to steal a pair of boy’s dirty trousers hanging on a peg in the loft.

No, there wasn’t a thief in the world that would do that. But there was an older brother and sister.

I particularly enjoyed the scene in chapter 3 where Talen has to walk home alone through a forest. He’s just been beat up, and all he has to defend himself is a few rocks and a stick.

Talen tried to keep himself from running. But the farther he got into the dark, old wood, the more he felt like a fat worm sinking on a hook into the water.

A fat worm that had already been worked over…

…Only when he reached [his own farm] did he stop and turn, and, with much panting, search the woods.

Nothing. Nothing at all.

The Sleth children, if there had ever been any, must have been one-legged pigeons. No regular monsters would have let him escape alive.

I wish I had more of that during the scenes with the other characters. Granted, the voice in this scene was going for mild comic relief, but I’ve read other stories where the narrative was serious and the voice was just as entertaining.

I wish authors of high fantasy would try harder in this area. Good voice really livens up a narrative. Somehow everyone’s got the idea that high fantasy has to be dry and serious.

What if there were higher beings that fed off the life-force of humans, in the same way that humans feed off of cattle? Concept is where Servant is strongest. I think readers will find themselves hooked, and I think this series will sell well.

Brown does a good job developing the backstory and explaining just enough of how the present situation in the world came to be. At times I found it a bit much to take in, but I’ll give him credit for making a fire hose feel more like a really big glass of water.

Four out of five nuns give their approval, and agreed that the story was very much acceptable. The mother superior didn’t like the light cussing, which doesn’t surprise me—although the sisters confided with me that she stayed up all night to finish it.

1 comment:

  1. Tsk, Tsk . . . those sisters should have been asleep instead of spying on the Mother Superior, hm?