Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Reaver: The Sundering, Book IV book review

The Reaver (The Sundering, #4)

The Reaver 

In the 4th book of the multi-author Sundering series launched by New York Times best-selling author R.A. Salvatore, Richard Lee Byers introduces Anton Marivaldi—a renowned reaver with an insatiable thirst for bounty and a moral compass that always leads him toward the evil he’s never tried.

Endless, pounding rain afflict the Sea of Fallen Stars and the coastal regions surrounding it. Harvests are failing, travel and trade are disrupted, and civilized forces are giving way to the deluges caused by the storms. In panic and despair, many have turned to the goddess Umberlee, Queen of the Deeps, offering her sacrifices with hope that they will be spared the inevitable reckoning of her perpetual tempest.

Evendur Highcastle, undead pirate captain, risen from the depths to assume the mantle of Umberlee’s Chosen, takes advantage of the people's desperation to strike for both spiritual and temporal power in her name.

Vying with Highcastle for the hearts and minds of the people is Stedd Whitehorn, a little boy and the chosen of a god thought lost to time: Lathander, the Morninglord. In a time of such upheaval, Stedd’s message of renewal and hope runs in stark contrast to the savage ethos of Highcastle and his waveservants.

When Anton captures the boy in order to collect Highcastle’s considerable bounty, the reaver is quickly caught in the riptide caused by the sundering of worlds.

My Review:  7/10
By Jonathan Armstrong

Richard Lee Byers came up with a fun and imaginative tale, but fell short in traditional writing areas that, unfortunately, undermined it.  Even still, I would probably re-read the book some day; it’s pleasurable and its tone is light. I would consider it a not-so-guilty pleasure.

Honestly, not knowing the author’s background or having read any of his other books, he reminds me of someone who created good adventures in a game like Dungeons & Dragons, was encouraged by the players, and then decided to turn those adventures into writing without being trained (or self-taught) in the mechanics of writing. The bad was mostly the result of writing mechanics (which can be improved) and the good was from the actual story. In other words, Richard Byers has a story to tell that’s worth listening to, but he needs to improve on how he tells it.

The first thing that struck me when I was reading was how cliché Anton Marivaldi seems in the opening of the book: a pirate captain lusting after treasure, caring nothing about his crew, and seeking his own adventure. There was a glimmer of hope that he could be deepened as a character when we discovered that he is threatened by depression after combat, but that was never really built upon. To be certain, we find out more about his past, but we didn’t get it in small doses or in a climactic reveal scene. We got it in a pretty anti-climactic fashion, actually. I will get to what made it that way later in the review.

Umara Ankhlab, a wizard(ess) of Thay, is the other unlikely hero of the book. Hers is an interesting story, which I enjoyed and have no complaints over. The way her vampire master made her willingly surrender to his bite well characterized both Umara and her vampiric overlord. In fact, it was a perfect representation of Umara’s spirit in the current hierarchy of Szass Tam’s Thay.

Here is my first complaint: the companionship between Anton and Umara was not earned by the writer. Their camaraderie developed way too quickly and way too easily with few obstacles. Realistically, when considering that one is a reviled pirate, one is a red wizard of Thay, they are both trying to kidnap the same child for different gains, and their companionship was actually based on positive moments shared together instead of shared evil motives, there should have been a trilogy’s worth of obstacles to overcome to get them there. Take their first scene together as an example. Sure, they both needed to get out of the temple and do so with Stedd Whitehorn in tow, but was there no distrust? If you and another party both infiltrate a temple to try and steal a child, you should have two goals once the alarms sound: get out with Stedd, and leave the other party to take your fall.  However, if we are accepting that the dire circumstances within the temple caused the two parties to fight together because they were too desperate not to, I would expect that to end soon after. It did, when Umara’s vampire master killed the rogues that Anton made a deal with. But Anton and Umara? Nope. Umara was ordered to stay behind to fight a celestial by herself, even though it would surely kill her, and she agreed because she had to listen to her vampiric master. But then Anton inexplicably decides to stay behind and help her…and then shortly after he and Umara are comrades-in-arms the rest of the book, with only circumstantial, token resistance to companionship between them.

The easy bonding between Anton and Umara is only saved by one thing:  Stedd Whitehorn. The child Chosen of Lathander has Biblical comparisons, which I won’t go into detail about. Suffice it to say that Stedd is most often concerned with a) preaching hope and the return of Lathander to the world in a time of darkness, b) preventing the rise of darker forces like the followers of Umberlee, c) following the revelations of Lathander, and d) bringing out the good in even the “unredeemable” such as a wizard of Thay and a villainous pirate. Richard Byers did a good job of creating opportunities to show how Anton and Umara were slowly changing—slowly finding hope, slowly reversing course on previous life choices—as a result of being with Stedd. This would have been an easy part of the book to force, but fortunately this aspect of the book was well done. Anton and Umara at first chased after Stedd because he was worth money or advancement to their own interests, but they eventually found themselves drawn to his message of light and his willingness to see good in them. Stedd gave them hope not just for their circumstances, but also for their own selves. The only realistic foundation for Anton and Umara’s companionship centered around Stedd. Their companionship made little sense when Stedd wasn’t involved, but when Stedd was, their relationship was beautifully formed. In fact, Stedd Whitehorn was a wonderfully done character overall; this character is responsible for the uplifting and spiritual tones of the book that would make me want to re-read it again some day.

An additional note, Stedd’s different roles as a typical child and a powerful Chosen were perfectly intermixed in his behavior. I also appreciated how Stedd came from the camp that Farideh and company freed at the end of the third book in the Sundering series.

Now to the anti-climactic scene where Anton’s past is revealed. This was poor, poor dialogue. First off, Umara asks about Anton’s past and Anton is way too open to revealing it (following the too-easy relationship pattern). There should be some greater barriers here. But regardless, the resulting conversation is mechanical, formulaic (and bad) writing. Anton delves into a recounting of his youth which consists of about a short paragraph’s worth of information. Then Umara says a one-line sentence or question that has no purpose but to transition to the next part of Anton’s story. Then another short paragraph of information. Then another one-liner. Rinse and repeat. There was no real interaction here. There was no emotion, interest, or reaction from Umara in any of the lines she said. Umara’s lines were only for the sake of continuing Anton’s tale. It was a wasted opportunity.

There were some other good points to this story (the different representations of Umberlee, Umberlee’s undead pirate Chosen, the different landscapes and unexpected adventures resulting from their travels) which I would talk about if I hadn’t written so much already. Without delving into them, I will simply say that the different plot points and combat scenes were inventive and interesting.

The combination of all this good and bad produced a light, maritime adventure. This was a good read, but could have been much better. It might be the equivalent of beach reading where Forgotten Realms is concerned. Here is to hoping that Richard Lee Byers fixes some of the issues that undermined this book before he publishes his next. Even if it’s not written well, I am interested to see where Stedd, Umara, and Anton end up.

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