CSFF Blog Tour: The Shock of Night

Willet Dura has survived a great deal – war, years of pursuing criminals, and (most impressively) the Darkwater Forest. It all helps to explain his uncanny interest in death, but it doesn’t quite excuse it. As the king’s reeve, he is called to investigate murders in the royal city of Bunard; sometimes he arrives at the scene of the murder before he is called. And there he does the one thing no other reeve in the city does, or has ever done: He questions the dead victim. What do you see?

Happily, there is never any answer.

The Shock of Night, written by Patrick W. Carr, is the first book of the Darkwater Saga. The novel is fantasy, and its world-building is particularly elaborate. From the treacherous world of the nobility, with all its grand constructions; to the ancient church, divided into four orders and weighted with history and tradition; to the almost superhuman “gifts” that divide mankind into classes, to the poor quarter and the urchins and the royal city itself – this is an unusually intricate world, and it’s not mere scenery. These are not only elements of the world but of the story itself.

That is to Patrick Carr’s credit, but it necessitates a slower pace and a more elaborate style than is normal in modern novels. In another aspect, however, the novel’s style is very modern: It switches off between a first-person and a third-person viewpoint, with the first-person narrator sometimes appearing in the third-person sections. I have known other modern authors to do this, and I have always regarded it as a kind of cheating – an unsportmanslike attempt to dodge the limitations all narrative styles necessarily bring. The stark combination of two different styles breaks the unity of the narrative and can create dissonance for the reader, though many readers doubtless rise above.

This novel boasts a large cast of characters, realistic and handled with a human touch. Willet Dura, the protagonist, is intriguing from the start, a genuine hero with an indefinable dark side. There is something wrong with him, but we aren’t sure what. And neither is he. Toward the end he began to verge on the unlikeable, as he passed judgment where he had no right to and condemned people without realizing they were much like himself.

Having read Carr’s previous trilogy, I can see in his newest book his continuing maturation as a writer. I regard The Shock of Night as his finest novel yet, holding onto the strengths of his earlier books and allaying the weaknesses. I did not, of course, find the novel perfect. I thought the characters showed a remarkable lack of zeal in questioning their one eyewitness to a murder they were so eager to solve.

Worse, it puzzled and eventually annoyed me to watch one character shift his loyalty from the Vigil to Dura. Admittedly, the Vigil did some things that were … difficult. But that is from the reader’s viewpoint. From the character’s viewpoint, he had watched the Vigil do such things for many years, and served them faithfully through it, and evidently approved, or at least accepted, all of it. I saw no reason why he should have suddenly taken offense, especially for Dura’s sake. I enjoyed Dura as a character in a book. But as an individual in the real world, I would not let him loose on the streets.

The fantasy concepts of The Shock of Night – the Darkwater, the Vigil, the gifts, mental “scrolls” – are fascinating and well-handled. The world of the story is complex and convincing, and the style of the book matches it. The Shock of Night is a worthy fantasy novel, and I am glad to see Patrick Carr back on the scene.

 

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. 

CSFF Blog Tour: Bolt

Some time ago – I forget, exactly, how much, or even vaguely how much – the CSFF blog tour reviewed the entire Staff and Sword trilogy, written by Patrick W. Carr. Now Patrick Carr is back, and so are we. His new book is called The Shock of Night, and it is the beginning of the Darkwater Saga.

Question: Does “saga” mean it will have more than three books? Answer: Probably, but you never know for sure. Even though a three-book series is by definition a “trilogy”, we cannot rule out it being labeled a “saga”. Sometimes authors just want to sound cool.

There is one element of this book that I would like to bring up here, because I will probably be too busy making real points in my review to bring it up there. One character – a very tough character, a character who can kill men almost faster than the eye can follow – is named Bolt. This name did not really work for me, because it is the name of the eponymous hero of the movie Bolt, who was – as you may recall, and I certainly do – a dog who lived in a Hollywood-created delusion that he had superpowers. When I read “Bolt” on the pages of Patrick Carr’s book, quite often the voice of Mittens (a companion of the other Bolt) echoed in my head: “Bolt!” And this in a New York accent.

Let me know if you experienced the same thing, or even thought of the movie Bolt. I want to know if I’m the only person making this association.

Now for the links:

The Shock of Night on Amazon;
The Shock of Night on Goodreads;
the website of author Patrick Carr, who evidently never saw Bolt;
and finally, our intrepid reviewers:

Thomas Clayton Booher
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Carol Bruce Collett
Carol Gehringer
Victor Gentile
Rani Grant
Rebekah Gyger
Bruce Hennigan
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Rebekah Loper
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
Jessica Thomas
Robert Treskillard
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White

CSFF Blog Tour: The Staff and the Sword

The central question of The Staff and the Sword is who will be the next king – Illustra’s soteregia, who will die to save the kingdom. When the church casts the lots for the answer, half the lots say Liam and half say Errol. Errol is the staff, for this is his weapon, the weapon with which he slayed monsters and climbed to fame.

And Liam, I suppose, is the sword.

Though of primary importance to the story, Liam is at best a second-tier character; in terms of page count, he might be a third-tier character. Martin, Adora, Luis, Rokha, maybe even Rale and Merodach are invested with more time and certainly more emotion than Liam.

The story unveils little of what he thinks or feels about any of his life’s circumstances, from his lost parents to his unusual upbringing to his given fate. We see that he accepts – maybe even embraces? – fighting and then dying as Illustra’s royal sacrifice, but we don’t know why. Did he abandon himself to Deas’ choosing? Was he the sort of born hero who dies easily if he dies well? Had he so built his life around one purpose that he had nothing else in it? I read all three books, and I couldn’t say.

I don’t think that readers of The Staff and the Sword trilogy really know who Liam is. I don’t think the other characters knew, either. The Staff and the Sword is Errol’s story and no one else’s. Liam is left an unplumbed mystery. The reader’s emotions are mostly with him, as are the characters’. It’s sad but it’s true: The only character in A Draw of Kings who didn’t prefer Liam to die instead of Errol was Antil.

Not to invest in Liam was a curious choice on Patrick Carr’s part; the suspense of who was the soteregia would have been greater had readers been led to know and care about Liam as well as Errol. It may be that Errol was The Hero and that’s all there was to Carr’s decision. It would have been a very different series, and quite possibly a longer one, if Liam had been raised to a similar level.

Possibly the story held Liam at arm’s length in order to pursue the contrast between him and Errol. The books always paired them opposite each other. At the beginning, it was Errol the hopeless drunk and Liam the promising young blacksmith; later, the solis and the omne, the savior and the king, the staff and the sword, the everyman hero and the warrior from a legend.

Perfect, several characters thought of Liam. Untouchable, Rokha called him. You need distance to maintain that. When you get near something, it grows more flawed. But also more loveable.

CSFF Blog Tour: A Draw of Kings

The kingdom of Illustra is faced by a two-front war. Or a three-front war. It depends at how many different points the foreign hordes can force their way into the country. Illustra needs to find their soteregia, their savior-king. Then they will crown him. Then he will go and fight for them.

Then he will die, and save them.

Every time they cast the lots to find the savior-king, the lots say Errol and Liam, each name as many times as the other. So Illustra prepares for war, and goes out to battle, all the while waiting for something to reveal the truth, to untwist the Gordian knot. Who is soteregia, and why does the cast of lots fail?

A Draw of Kings is the final book in The Staff and the Sword trilogy, written by Patrick W. Carr. Here Errol’s journey – begun as the village drunk two books earlier – finally ends, and here they discover at last who the Soteregia is.

Carr handles a large cast of characters, and honors all the principals with a true part to play in the story. The narrative is complex, as the characters divide into three storylines, for a while widely divergent from each other. There was a little confusion to this at the beginning, when it took Carr several chapters to return to one storyline. (Two missions actually began on a ship, and at one point I forgot they were different ships. I remember when I figured this out. Huh! That’s why Martin wasn’t around during the storm!)

Even at the beginning, I appreciated the multiple storylines, where the characters pursued the same goal with different quests and in different theaters. It suited Illustra’s many troubles.

It also allowed Patrick Carr to display the vastness of the world he has created, from Ongol to the steppes to Illustra herself. Finally, the different storylines gave the assemblage of characters space to work and to shine.

The most important part of any story is the end. Ending a story that has sprawled across three books and a thousand pages is especially hard, and hardest of all is ending a story you yourself have tied into a Gordian knot. But Patrick Carr succeeded in crafting a satisfying ending, in cutting through his Gordian knot, and it is this success, of all his successes, that is most impressive.

A Draw of Kings had a strong religious element that still felt somewhat to the side of the action. I enjoyed picking out the real-world parallels (I caught a nod toward Calvinism!), and I was moved by Errol’s final conclusion regarding the mercy of Deas. I wish that part of the book had been stronger, though perhaps the story didn’t have room for it.

The flaw of this book was a favoritism towards Errol that infected the other characters. They were partisans for Errol, and occasionally it made them act less than what they were. Adora was wrong to invite Antil to dinner, only to prod and taunt him; if you make someone your guest you need to treat him as a guest. Far worse was the archbenefice, who punished one man’s insolence to Errol by having his teeth broken.

Worst of all was Martin. He expressed his willingness to “search church law and tradition” for a way to execute Antil. Justice is rarely served this way. I have already determined I want to kill you, so all that’s to do now is to scour law and tradition for some technicality on which to do it. And with Illustra on the brink of annihilation and the church having just regained holy Scripture that had been lost for centuries, Martin made a priority of “correcting perceived slights to Errol on behalf of his predecessor and Rodran”.

Yet this flaw was ultimately a minor one, and A Draw of Kings is not only the last book of its series, but the best. It seals The Staff and the Sword as a rich and compelling fantasy, the sort of story that suggests a thousand other stories to be told.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: The Hero’s Lot

Even if your enemy has any number of vicious cutthroats, and still more vicious ferrals, at his command, one could see reason in hunting him down, if the necessity were great enough. But when your enemy can see you coming from a thousand miles away, one would strain hard to see any reason in taking up the hunt.

So it’s doubtful that anyone in Illustra saw the sense of going after the traitor Valon, least of all the people who actually did.

The Hero’s Lot is the second book in the series The Staff and the Sword, written by Patrick W. Carr. As in the first book, politics and intrigue worthy of our own world combine with the first principles of epic fantasy – kings, prophecies, swords, other-worldly beings, other-worldly powers and dangers.

I believe that, on the whole, the second book was better than the first. It got to the heart of the matter, weighing what hangs in the balance, painting sharply the looming threats. This novel also provided a more nuanced view of the Church, portraying more good along with the bad, and giving hints as to how so many in the Church had lost their way.

I noticed the unnecessary repetition of the first book here, too. Overall I thought the problem was lesser, but it did manifest itself in a new way. Rather than the author repeating a word, the characters repeated each other’s thoughts once or twice. For example, one character tested the veracity of the lots by asking a very simply question: “Is Martin a priest?” Many pages later, a different character – one who missed the previous demonstration entirely – also tested the lots’ reliability with a question: “Is Martin a priest?”

There was more violence in this book than I liked; it got quite dark a few times. Yet I felt, in The Hero’s Lot, more of the heart of religion, and not merely the forms: in the revelation of truth, in the guidance of Aurae and in characters’ submission to him, in seeing – if only briefly – the change and the brotherhood faith brought to men in the dark city of a lost country.

I hope to see more of Liam in the third book. He’s vital to the story but rarely involved, and it would be good if he could take a place on the stage; he is, after all, in the same boat as Errol.

The Hero’s Lot is a complex fantasy, detailed in the peoples and history and religions of its world. Sword-swinging alternates with scheming, action with deep exploration. The series continues next year, with A Draw of Kings, and I hope to be there.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

CSFF Blog Tour: A Cast of Stones

Not to put too fine a point on it, Errol Stone is a drunk. Drinking is the only thing he’s good at.

That, and running errands over the Cripples. In an effort to earn more ale money, he agreed to take a message to the hermit-priest. So he got involved in the Church, and the watch, and discovered all sorts of things he was good at. Living is not necessarily one of them.

With A Cast of Stones, Patrick W. Carr begins his adult fantasy series The Staff and the Sword. In his world there are echoes of our world; blond hair is signature to the Soedes, and red hair and lilting speech signature to those from Erinon.

The Church, above all, rings with the echoes – with their sacrament of bread and wine, their divine Trinity, their priests and monks and liturgy. It hails, too, back to the worst days of the Catholic Church – with its wealth, its power and abuse of power, its persecution even of believers.

The most original idea of the book is the readers and their ability to cast lots. Compulsions form another fascinating, other-worldly element. Another such element, the malus, are plainly based on the Christian doctrine of devils, with, perhaps, some inspiration from the Nephilim. It’s by no means a new idea, but it is a compelling one and Carr executes it with skill.

A Cast of Stones is Patrick Carr’s first novel, but you couldn’t tell from the writing. It had a high degree of polish, though I would offer this piece of advice to Mr. Carr: Avoid too much repetition of certain words. You should only describe a character’s eyes as “glittering” so many times in the same chapter, and you should almost never use two slightly different versions of the same word in a single sentence. (The worst instance of this in the novel was, “A line of shelves lined the wall” – for which, oddly enough, I almost blame the editor more than the author.)

I think the greatest error of the novel was that the author didn’t do enough to sell the vital point of preserving the kingdom. Important characters – protagonists, what’s more – are primarily motivated by saving the kingdom, to the point that they will sacrifice themselves and others.

But readers could well wonder why the kingdom is worth the sacrifice. Every authority, every institution seems dominated by corruption and arrogance. Injustice is painted again and again – in the punishing of the innocent, or the overly-harsh punishing of the guilty. The anarchy of the caravans suggests a society in political and moral disarray. Worse, readers were not made to feel the suffering that the kingdom’s collapse would cause, nor did the characters who wanted to save the kingdom give much impression of loving it.

A Cast of Stones is a fine novel – well-written, with a well-constructed fantasy world that gives the feel of complex societies, of vast and diverse countries. I enjoyed the real-world texture, as well as the fantastical threads. A Cast of Stones sets out to be a fantasy novel for adults – and succeeds.


In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.