Today's review is of Never Trust a Sorcerer by L. R. Barrett-Durham. It's a fantasy adventure novel with a strong female protagonist. It has a touch of romance without that becoming the main focus of the story.
I'll be borrowing Travis McBee's basic rubric for this series, although my way of reviewing is a bit different. It just has a good set of items to look at in works of fantasy and science fiction, so it seemed like a solid place to start.
I will try to keep all reviews as spoiler free as possible. All reviews will be available here, on YouTube, and Goodreads.
The antagonist is a powerful sorcerer with a yen for world domination, and he's both tried and failed once before. He's been searching for the magical relic he was using in that attempt a few decades earlier since it was stollen, which is what ended his bid for planetary despotism in failure. He's just a little bitter and out for revenge against the family who stole his weapon to tide him over as he searches.
Barrett- Durham has a clear idea of the world she’s built. It has a good weight of history behind it, and it feels fully fleshed out. She does borrow from several established tropes, but what fantasy or science fiction writer doesn’t?
Deus Ex Machina
Here’s where I had a few issues with the book. First there’s the relic. It’s an all powerful, verging on sentient, spell book that supposedly can’t be destroyed by any means, so it was hidden. You know how that turned out. It contains spells that can take over the minds of any and all creatures of any particular race and bend them to the caster’s will.
Then there’s the magic overall. Yes, the characters tire out at a set rate dependent upon their strength level and the type of magic being performed, but it takes a lot. Several key events were basically erased or side stepped a bit too easily thanks to magic.
Still, it’s pretty standard stuff for the fantasy genre, and it’s not like any of these devices could have ended the story at page twenty and just wasn’t implemented.
Overall, the writing is good. A few of the names and the frequency of “this day” and “this night” references did “knock me out” of the story now and again, but that’s my only complaint.
It’s something I’d put down to the fact this was Barrett-Durham’s first novel. Pretty much all of us have writing “ticks,” and it can take us a while to learn how to deal with them. And to be fair, those phrases were almost always used in dialogue, so it may well have been part of the human and elf cultures she built.
As I said in the writing portion of this review, a few of the character names had me shaking my head or laughing outright. Bern Hilda and Jareth seem like obvious reference names, and although originally comedic, Gnarl Knottytrunk seems to fit with the overall dwarf culture as you get farther into the book.
Otherwise, Barrett-Durham’s characterization is spot on. The characters read like real people strengths, weaknesses, flaws, and all. Their motivations, on the whole, are believable and logical given their backgrounds, personalities, and events in the book.
My only real quibble with the characterization is kind of a major one though. A few of the relationships develop with ridiculous speed. We have one character, social interaction deprived as he may be, go from meeting someone to professing his love in under forty-eight hours. One romantic interest seems to come completely out of nowhere and go against one party’s character. It seems like a late in the game addition that needed a bit more editing to fit correctly, and it’s one that had me giving that particular character a side eye for the remainder of the story, expecting him to turn on the protagonist at the climax.
Overall the pacing was good. Some places, although logical given the situation, could have been cut for redundancy, but the repetition didn’t slow things down too much. Once again, I put this one down to it being a first novel. I suspect Barrett-Durham has tightened her pacing as she wrote more books in the series.
Barrett-Durham managed to wrap everything up where you could leave this series satisfied if she never wrote any other books, but it’s still open ended enough to lead into more stories. So full marks there.
There was one place I did want a bit more of an explanation. It was a bit of the ending that was supposedly impossible, but it happened anyway. It's also something I can't imagine others didn't at least try after the first attempt at global takeover by the antagonist. I hope it's something that gets explained or at least explored in other books within the series.
I halfway wish I’d left it without reading the epilogue, but I figured I wouldn’t be able to write a full review if I didn’t. I was pretty happy with it up until the last couple of paragraphs. I suspected this would happen because it was hinted at in the final chapter, but it still kind of disappointed me all the same. I don’t want to give it away, so I’ll just say my beef with the “twist.” It’s inclusion proves that, in this world, magic doesn’t have any real meaningful limits, and it undercut the power of the book’s climax.
That said, I haven’t read the rest of the series. Maybe she’s setting up unforeseen consequences of this magical miracle for the following books. I don’t really know, so I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Overall Score: 4 Stars
Never Trust a Sorcerer is a solid fantasy adventure. It has good characters, action, a touch of romance, and a menacing villain. So if you’re into that kind of story, go for it.
It’s a fun read.
I will add more book reviews as I finish books. I have a couple more I've picked up over the past year or so, but if you have a book you'd like to see reviewed, I'm always open to requests.
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