I’m trying a new thing my May 15 newsletter, one that I’ll continue in future newsletters, and I’m also posting it here to my blog. I’ve read a fellow indie fantasy author’s book, and I’m offering a review of it here. The book is God King Rising by Jeff Kohanek. Full disclosure: I am doing a newsletter swap with Jeff this month, and because his mailing list is a lot bigger than mine, I offered to review the book he’s promoting this week in addition to just providing a link.
Jeff is a very successful indie author, at least as far as I can tell from his online presence. He’s got four separate fantasy series, including Fate of Wizardoms (6 books), Runes of Issalia (3 books), Wardens of Issalia (4 books), and Fall of Wizardoms (3 books out now, 3 more planned this year), plus some stories and companion pieces. If I’m reading the dates right, he started with all of these in 2018, which puts him at about four times my pace so far. So, prolific and successful, with all but one of the books north of four stars on GoodReads. He’s also an active presence on various indie fantasy sites.
God King Rising, the first book in Jeffrey’s latest series, was a fun read. It follows multiple storylines in a world shattered by the death of its gods, whose power used to support wizard kings (a wizardom is like a kingdom). The societies are reassessing their leadership, rearranging their power structures and governments, and some new factions and leaders are seeing opportunities to seize power following all the upheaval. As we shift from storyline to storyline, we see different perspectives on these events, from a pirate queen and her warrior companion fleeing a sinister plot, to the plotters themselves, to a thief-turned-administrator betrothed to a newly-crowned benevolent queen, to a haughty wizardess overseeing a cruel and stratified society, one threatened by those she oppresses. There is a lot going on here.
I got some sense of Jeff’s world as the characters traveled through it, although that impression left me realizing that there’s even more complexity beyond what I saw. The bulk of the action takes place in four main cities or towns, although there are other locations along the way. These towns each have a society, a culture, a government, trade goods, and industries. Even though they differ, they’re often tied up in the fading of the wizards’ power and the upheaval of the recent death of the gods. There’s a good bit of description of these cities, including clothes, architecture, military factions, and a bit of the society, but not so much it’s overwhelming.
Much of the action in the book is cinematic. There are fights, tremendous feats of derring-do, magic spells, poisons, curses, disguises, escapes, schemes, even a carriage chase. The action is fast paced. The characters are clear about their goals and their limitations, and you can follow them as they pursue their goals (and as their circumstances change). There’s a little bit of the superhero in some of the characters, which is fine – they’re the heroes of the story, after all, and it’s fun that they’re quite capable (often seemingly the best in the world) at what they do. This quality and this pacing doesn’t always leave time for introspection or for getting to know the characters, although we do get deep into some of them, and I suspect it’s a deliberate tradeoff to elevate the action and adventure parts. Something is nearly always happening.
With those powerful characters and their skills, the story sometimes seems a little like a very solid RPG campaign, with a highlighted set of diverse heroes facing a series of challenges and quests along the way. In each section, the focus never shifts from the party – we’re always following what they’re doing and thinking and planning. Of course, with so many perspective characters, it’s more like a bunch of RPG campaigns blended into each other.
This RPG impression I got was furthered by other RPG-style elements. The characters mostly seem to have a class they fall into – thief, sorcerer, wizard, warrior – with a related set of skills. There are multiple magic items of power that play a role in the story, with many characters relying on those items for their power, for protection, or to augment their fighting style. There are some familiar races from D&D – dark elves, regular elves, dwarfs (never dwarves, although either plural is fine, I now know). I’ve been playing D&D since 1980, so this all felt quite familiar and comfortable for me.
The separate storylines blend as the characters interact, and there are several exciting set-piece scenes along with some good climaxes. The storylines all come to resolutions, and while these resolutions are satisfying, it’s clear that many of them are not final, and the adventures will continue in the future books.
If you’d like to give the book a look, and you’re reading this in mid-May 2021, you’re in luck! It’s on sale for the next few days for $0.99 on Amazon.
This was a really interesting chance for me to get a look at a well-developed world and the start of a new series by an experienced and successful indie author, one with a fairly different style of writing and characterization from mine. I learned a lot, and the perspective will certainly help me as I continue.