Today’s topic is a long overdue one. M.L. Spencer’s Darkstorm: Book One of the Rhenwars Saga. This was supposed to be the last post I made but irrational anger over the quality of an over hyped game took it’s place and then I – as per usual – ended up in poor health. The second is excusable. The first is just further proof that I stopped maturing at the age of 14. Some day I’ll get past that.
Sigh. Yeah. I don’t believe it either.
Let’s begin with the synopsis of Darkstorm:
“Braden (Fuck Braden) and Quin Reis share a tragic past (that past being Braden being an asshole) , but it’s now up to them to save the future. When a secret conspiracy resorts to harnessing the powers of the Netherworld to save their legacy, Braden (who couldn’t handle a shot of raspberry schnapps much less stop a conspiracy) and Quin are the only mages capable of stopping them. But these two would-be heroes (not the word I would use) are compromised (mostly by Braden’s towering idiocy), harboring terrible secrets.
Can Braden and Quin put aside their differences long enough to prevent the unsealing of the Well of Tears? Or will they relent and join the conspiracy?”
This book is actually hard for me to actively rate. I didn’t hate it and I didn’t love it. It would present an element I really liked – and then make me read a section about Braden again. There would be a moment of great characterization – and then Braden would reappear. We’d get a glimpse at something really cool – and then Braden would stick his dick back into the picture. Yet there is nothing in it that turns me off from reading further into the series. A lot of the issues are honestly the kind of issues I generally expect in a debut novel. I tend to be forgiving on debut novels because I feel you have to be. Virtually no one’s first book is their best book. Generally they are still early in refining their writing skills and techniques. That, to me, feels like the case with Darkstorm. That being said let us discuss the particulars.
The world and the magic are not strongly defined but it doesn’t truly bother me as the rest of the series is set a thousand years later. Too much definition on these subjects would almost be a waste of time. You get enough of an image of them over the course of the book that it is not confusing but you would have a hard time extrapolating on the rest of the world beyond what is directly shown in the book itself. The two main countries – Rhen and Caladorn – are painted with a very light brush. The details are scarce. Rhen in particular is very lightly defined (which feels odd since the series is called the Rhenwars Saga) and the only real character of that country – Sephana – sheds little light on their culture beyond a certain predilection for prudishness and terrible taste in men. Caladorn receives significantly more development due simply to the fact that the book primarily takes place there but not a lot of its culture is really explored. You see glimpses but it’s never really delved into. The most cultural information given pertains to the horsemen …which is basically pointless because they are basically pointless. And they gave us Braden. They can fuck right off for that shit.
The magic is at the heart of the story which makes its nebulousness odd to me. I feel like if a system of magic is going to be integral to a story it needs to be more clearly defined and there was a good opportunity to show this through the lens of the character Merris (we’ll get to her later) but it wasn’t taken. Honestly I am left with a lot of question marks as to what magic can and cannot do in the setting. All I really knew at the end is that magic is passed from one person to another through a ritual creating lineages (How did these lineages start?) and that there is a natural magic field and ill defined magic from the Netherworld (Which is defined very vaguely as the home of bad things). We know they can make magic items but not how. There are tiers of mages but no real understanding of what that means besides big number means more powerful. Not necessarily more useful as Braden the Fucking Idiot is 6th Tier which John Holmes level magical power and he is useless as tits on a nun.
Fine. Fuck it. Let’s talk about Braden. He is the useless elephant in the room. Let me state that I do not think Braden is technically a bad character. Indeed I have known many people like him. Which is probably why I despise him. He is that so fucking straight edged guy that he can no more conceive of bending from his beliefs than he can of having a conversation that doesn’t involve everyone involved wanting to kiss him with a nail studded bat. He has that blindness about his own actions that ends up disconnecting him from reality. Like he blames himself for something that happened to his wife and it seems like it is going to be this tragic set of circumstances but when the full details are revealed you realize that he does not at all understand what he did wrong. I don’t want to spoil the details as it is important to the plot but basically it can be summed up as follows. He is the guy who blames himself for taking his wife off of life support while ignoring the fact that his abuse put her in the hospital in the first place. This isn’t exactly what happens but the analogy is fitting.
Let’s continue on with the characters as this is honestly a character driven piece. Sephana …there is just really isn’t anything to her. She is that generically nice person everyone knows that doesn’t stand out in any other way but has awful taste in men. See the Braden info above for explanation. Quin is fucking awesome. By far the most personality in the book. His chapters drip with his character. Smart, funny, competent, and completely out of fucks to give. Naturally everything bad in his life can be traced to Braden. The conspirators are a hit and miss bunch. Not a lot of time is given to the vast majority of them and as such it is hard to have a solid opinion on them. There are two exceptions to this. One of which I will not name because it’s kind of a big plot point and the other is Cyrus Krane. Him I will talk about. He is cartoonishly evil. I am honestly surprised that at no point during the book did he tie a woman to train tracks while twirling a moustache. Thankfully he is barely in the book but you can do better than him, ML.
And now to the character who I am certain is the most divisive among readers. Merris. I will be honest if I was not as well versed in psychology as I am I probably would have hated her or found her storyline frustrating to follow. She is going to bother a lot of readers because she doesn’t seem to have a personality of her own. When she is with Sephana she is prudish and generically nice. When she is with Quin she is hedonistic and wild. And so on. This is a trait that psychologists call mirroring. It’s most common in people suffering Borderline Personality Disorder. The people who do this suffer from a lack of a sense of self and usually have been extremely poorly socialized. Basically they imitate the strongest personality around them (though even she had the good taste not to mimic Braden’s) to make up for not having one of their own. It’s fascinating as a look at an underrepresented mental illness in genre fiction. Generally most mental illness in books is either schizophrenia (incredibly poorly done usually) or some version of Anti Social Personality Disorder (almost universally rage inducingly badly done). So it was nice to see BPD show up but it will be jarring to those who do not know the disorder.
That all being said it is still an enjoyable book and I look forward to the later books in the series. The premise is solid and Braden isn’t in the later books. Plus there is a good chance that a lot of the things that bothered me won’t bother the average reader. I am fairly brutal in how I dissect the things I study. So give it a shot. See what you think.
And this has nothing to do with the review or quality of the book but ML Spencer is one of the nicest people I have dealt with in a long time and is probably my biggest cheerleader when it comes to my endeavors. Both this blog and my personal writing. This kind of support is a rare thing in my life as I tend to either drive people off with my somewhat …abrasive personality or my confidence (read as overweening arrogance) convinces most that I do not require such support. So I will take this public (as public as anything read by a whopping 5 people and a goat on a daily basis can be) opportunity to say, “Thank you, ML. Support is a rare thing and I appreciate it.”
PS I know you support me, Charles Phipps, but I still have the taste of John Ringo in my mouth. It’s a mixture of Axe body spray and ass. Kind of like a Tap Out store shoved down my throat.
I knew I should have recommended something not honestly so horrible to you, Eric! I apologize, truly! In any case, I love the Rhenwars series and I think you should note that Branden is meant to be a parody (at least as far as I can tell) of the moral absolutist heroes which we see so often in fantasy. The people who refuse to believe their way is anything but the right way and that EVIL cannot be reasoned with. You’d also be surprised at how much the events of 1000 years earlier play into the next.