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Liane Merciel – The River Kings’ Road

May 31, 2011

68. The River Kings’ Road by Liane Merciel (2010)
Ithelas, Book 1

Length: 434 pages
Genre: Fantasy

Started: 21 May 2011
Finished: 23 May 2011

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 May 2011.

How ambitious do
you have to be to make a
pact with a Maimed Witch?

Summary: Tensions between the neighboring kingdoms of Oakharn and Langmyr have been high for as long as anyone can remember. After a terrible attack on a Langmyr village, in which an Oakharne prince was visiting, the only survivors are Brys Tarnell, a mercenary man-at-arms, and the infant son of the prince. The attack was committed using bloodmagic, the specialty of the Ang’artan Maimed Witches, a group of terrifyingly dangerous sorcerers. Brys plans to take the baby to Oakharn, and he soon encounters a homely young woman with a son of her own to help him care for the infant, but the witch does not like leaving a job unfinished. Meanwhile, the perpetrators of the attack are being hunted by the religious knight Kellan, who may be the only man alive who has a chance of killing of killing the evil sorceress.

Review: This book has a lot going for it – a compelling story, some interesting bits of worldbuilding, and an effectively terrifying bad guy – but it faltered by trying to do too much, too fast. By epic fantasy standards, it’s not a particularly long book, and its 400-odd pages are split amongst four storylines and five points of view. Multiple POV characters is something that can be used to move a story along (see: George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series), but in the case of The River Kings’ Road, Merciel hasn’t yet obtained nearly that level of mastery. Instead, too long is spent on each segment, leaving a hundred pages between successive installments from each character, and effectively keeping me from being too involved in any one story, or from ever becoming particularly attached to any one character.

Merciel also doesn’t quite have the grip on her worldbuilding that I would have liked. The raw materials are there, for sure, but there’s so much going on in her story that all of the details of the worldbuilding don’t always get worked into an organic whole. As a result, there are a number of elements (including the road of the title; a relic of an ancient civilization) that seem to be there only because they sounded good. Perhaps these elements will get picked up and explained in the sequel which the ending is so obviously setting up.

Overall, this was an enjoyable read; Merciel’s prose is smooth and her story has a lot of potential to become very interesting. I just think this book was overambitious – too many characters, worldbuilding too complex, etc. – for what it was able to achieve. I’ll be reading the sequel, in hopes that as Merciel matures as an author that she manages to take the reins on this sprawling story. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: I enjoy epic fantasy, and am always interested to see a fresh take on it, particularly if it’s not a pigboy parable, and particularly if it’s written by a woman. The River Kings’ Road is not the most astounding debut I’ve ever come across, but it definitely shows promise, and is therefore probably worth checking out for other fans of epic fantasy.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Booktumbling, Cheryl’s Book Nook, Drey’s Library, Fantasy Book Critic, Genre Reviews, My Book Views
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Brys Tarnell was not a pious man. It saved his life that day.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 7: “The straps wouldn’t fit over his shoulders, so he knotted both ends of a quirt to the feed bag and used that as a strap instead.” – a riding whip consisting of a short, stout stock and a lash of braided leather.
    .
  • p. 60: “Bitharn couldn’t tell whether it was due to a change in the bodkins’ weight as the smokepowder burned away, or was caused by the streaming sparks somehow interfering with the arrows’ flight, but it was clear that something about the smokepowder arrows hampered their accuracy.” – a small, pointed instrument for making holes in cloth, leather, etc.; in this case, an arrowhead so shaped.
    .
  • p. 170: “Her jennet tossed its head back and whickered at the smell, tail flicking at the insects.” – a female donkey, or small spanish horse. (almost certainly the second; I’m pretty sure this character wouldn’t be riding a donkey.)

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2011 1:35 pm

    I googled ‘pigboy parable’ since I had no idea what you meant by that, and have found that you are the only user of that phrase! I do think it’s apt, though.

    The book sounds good…

    • June 7, 2011 1:53 pm

      Ela – Hee hee; I just googled this as well, and was all prepared to get indignant about the other blog results that turn up on the search page… and then I realized that those were all posts I’d commented on. :-D

      I don’t remember how I came up with the term (although I know “pigboy” comes from Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles; I probably just liked the alliteration). I’m sure there’s an actual term for that whole archetype – probably from Joseph Campbell – but I think “pigboy parable” just captures it, somehow. :)

    • June 7, 2011 1:55 pm

      Oh, and for the curious, here’s my original definition of the “pigboy parable”, from my review of J. Scott Savage’s Farworld: Water Keep almost three years ago:

      “orphaned boy/girl (typically with extraordinary birth parents) has/finds magic powers/objects, is hounded by agents of evil and must leave his adoptive parents’ farm (typically with an older, wiser mentor, who will die before the end) to complete a quest, learn about himself, and fulfill his destiny, which is usually defeating the forces of evil, thereby saving the world.”

  2. July 14, 2011 11:02 am

    Good review. The book is a good start to a promising series. But there were times when I wished the author showed us what the character was feeling rather than just told us. Character development was uneven at times with some bias towards Odosse and Bitharn, maybe because the author had a better grasp on how female characters work as opposed to the male characters. The setting has a lot of potential and the action scenes are laid out well, a bit dull in some areas, but sharp enough to satisfy a genre fan. BTW, I like the blog’s design.

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