Like a super-hero origin movie, the first book in a fantasy trilogy has to do a lot of upfront work to establish its characters, factions, geography and even the specific rules of its reality before it can really get on with things. So, even though ‘Stranger Of Tempest’ starts with a fight, a chase and a naked woman, I felt that it didn’t really get started until page 82.
That’s the first time we see the protagonist, Lynx, make a real choice, though it’s a big one and it reverberates through the rest of the story, simultaneously propelling the plot into gear and complicating his life in the manner all wandering heroes require.
You may have noticed the naked woman back there. One thing I wanted to flag was that I found the book’s handling of female characters to be…interesting. I was initially worried by the teenage boy focus on Toil, a mysterious, beautiful badass who spends the first chapter naked and has all the male characters drooling over/falling in love with her. On the other hand, besides Toil and Lynx, the next set of main characters are basically all female and are given depth, complicated personalities and goals, so the handling isn’t bad per se, just unusual. Speaking of which, one of the ways we find out these character’s goals is that the author occasionally swaps you from Lynx’s head into one of the other characters for a few pages. Every time this happened it jolted me out of the story because it doesn’t come up consistently enough to feel natural. It feels like cheating to me and a way of telling us their motivations, not showing.
Despite this, I liked that this is a character-driven story, with people being prickly, doing the wrong thing and forcing Lynx through a series of events, people and places that sketch the world’s rules as well as drive the plot.
Speaking of Lynx, being a member of a hated/feared foreign race with a bleak past and an overweight physique means he’s quite an evocative character to follow around. Forced to team-up with a mercenary company of colourful personalities, he introduces us to a world of warring states and religious orders, where mages are conscripted/enslaved into manufacturing magical bullets for flintlocks. The hints at a precursor race and wandering elementals add some intriguing texture, though despite the slightly steampunk, magical bullet element, the last act of the book feels weirdly borrowed from ‘Lord Of The Rings’.
As the characters descend into the lost underground kingdom of Shadow’s Deep and encounter a huge, bat-winged monster on the bridge, I’m pretty sure the book is just one ‘you shall not pass’ from Tolkein’s lawyers swooping in on a giant eagle.
So, this is very much book one of a trilogy with the requisite focus on establishing a world, characters and stakes to draw you into wanting to read the others. Still, the story is fast-paced and violent enough, where not everyone makes it to the end, to pull you through and leaves enough threads hanging to promise deeper politics and relationships in books two and three. The fact that I’m looking forward to reviewing the next book in ‘The God Fragments’ trilogy basically tells you everything you need to know.
(pub: Gollancz, 2017. 512 page enlarged paperback. Price: £10.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-473-21318-0)