Monday, January 27, 2014

The Godborn Book Review

The Godborn (The Sundering, #2)

The Godborn 

In the 2nd book of the multi-author Sundering series launched by New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, the shadow legacy of Erevis Cale lives on even as his old foe Mephistopheles seeks to stamp it out at any cost. Cale’s son Vasen—unmoored in time by the god Mask—has thus far been shielded from the archdevil’s dark schemes, alone among the servants of the Lord of Light who have raised him since birth.

Living in a remote abbey nestled among the Thunder Peaks of Sembia, Vasen is haunted by dreams of his father, trapped in the frozen hell of Cania. He knows the day will come when he must assume his role in the divine drama unfolding across Faerûn. But Vasen knows not what that role should be . . . or whether he is ready to take it on. He only knows what his father tells him in dreams—that he must not fail.

Enter Drasek Riven, a former compatriot of Erevis Cale, now near divine and haunted by dreams of his own—he too knows the time to act is near. Shar, the great goddess of darkness, looks to cast her shadow on the world forever. Riven has glimpsed the cycle of night she hopes to complete, and he knows she must be stopped.

At the crossroads of divine intrigue and mortal destiny, unlikely heroes unite to thwart the powers of shadow and hell, and the sundering of worlds is set on its course.

My Review of The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp:

7 out of 10

The Godborn is the second book of the Forgotten Realms-shifting Sundering series, following R.A. Salvatore’s The Companions. It follows Vasen, the son of Mask’s chosen, while the main plot resolves the thrice-split divinity of Mask and the world-engulfing threat of Shar’s Cycle of Night.

Paul Kemp is a talented writer. The settings are always well-described, both for sensory and mood; you feel yourself there.  This was perhaps some of the best setting writing I have read. I can see the Abbey of the Rose clearly, the mountain pass, the Sembian plains, Ordulin, Fairelm, etc. Incredibly well done. However, his characters never seemed quite deep enough to me overall. They were deep enough to make the story and scenes work, but not deep enough for the characters to be memorable or for me to care about them, with the exception of Sayeed (of all characters!). While others who have read Paul Kemp’s previous books might think there was enough depth, having never read any of his novels containing these characters before, I didn’t gain quite enough appreciation for them.

Though I didn’t feel enough depth for the characters, they were on the whole rather realistic. The nihilism of Rivalen, the power-crusted but not emotionally impregnable Telemont, the rage-driven Brennus, Vasen’s faith (this was especially good at times), the hatred but loyalty between the two plagueshifted brothers, and it goes on and on. All had realistic motives and were very human. That was another thing wonderfully done. But as I recount all the different characters here, I think I’ve found the reason I was never able to get emotionally attached. I think there were too many characters in this novel; it didn’t allow me enough time with any of them to truly develop an affinity for them. I did want to be fonder of Vasen, since I’m someone of faith and Vasen seemed to be the only main character who strove to bring light into darkness, but it wasn’t to be.

Speaking of which, this book was 95% darkness. This is perhaps another reason that I wasn’t carried away with it. I suppose it should be expected when the two divinities mainly at play are Mask and Shar, and one of the characters who holds a splinter of Mask’s divinity is an archfiend.  I suppose I don’t really blame Paul Kemp for this choice. The plot seems to fulfill its necessary place in the Sundering series. But still, while it didn’t make me like the book less, it did prevent me from liking it more.  I haven’t read his previous books, but there was talk of some characters who probably existed in his prior books and who would have likely counterbalanced the darkness. So perhaps not all his books are like this. If they are, then I would probably count it as a negative.

Finally, the overarching plot:  The most interesting plot was definitely with the plagueshifted brothers. I don’t want to give away any details, but this was a very interesting way to indirectly move events forward. It would have been too easy to move the plot forward directly, which is how the rest of the book seemed to proceed. So while the overall plot was definitely interesting in concept, it was mostly too direct. I feel like I could have read the events factually in a history book or one of the Forgotten Realms supplements (a chapter on how Mask’s divinity was restored into one and Shar’s Cycle of Night was defeated) and not missed much. Giving the benefit of the doubt, I think this storyline got part of its intrigue and suspense and drama from prior books by the author, and so didn’t stand as well by itself. That’s a shame, because this book is a standalone. It continues their story, sure, but it’s not part of a series with those previous books. Overall, this book felt like a conclusion without the beginning or middle.

Overall thoughts:  Paul Kemp’s writing ability is splendid, but I wasn’t as impressed with his ability to craft a story.  Those are two separate things. I would have liked to like this book more, but unfortunately I couldn’t. The plot was interesting in concept, but didn’t get much more interesting for having fleshed it out over a couple hundred pages. This is a shame, because it’s the type of thing I would read a high-level summary of and think “I would love to read the details of that!” In fact, that is how I felt when I got brief snippets of past events involving some of the characters—it made me want to read the previous books. However, given how I felt about this book overall, I’m not sure if I will make the effort to.

Jon Armstrong

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