J.E. Lowder asked me to read "The Tears of Min Brock". It is the first book in the "War of the Whispers" saga between The King of Claire and the Cauldron of Ebon. I will examined plot, characters, polish and then assign a grade.
The plot follows the classic Hero's Journey. The hero (in this case, Elabea) receives the Call to Adventure and journeys into the Unknown World where they encounter Trials and Tribulations. The hero's goal is to arrive at their destination and then return with a boon for their people. In this case, Elabea wants to become a full fledged storyteller so she can inspire the people of her hometown and overturn Ebon's oppressive rule. This structure, plus the rich and enchanted setting Mr.Lowder has developed, give this story an epic and mystical air. It was a joy to follow her journey to Claire.
I also like Mr.Lowder's take on the Hero Of Another Story. Elabea is the main heroine but her journey is only 1/4 of the narrative. There are others working toward the overthrow of Ebon and facing their own trials and tribulations. To my surprise, the story doesn't feel cluttered because of this. Instead, they enrich the story. Perhaps this is because all four of them are different fronts in the War of the Whispers.
For a third point, I give Mr.Lowder props for making a christian fantasy without introducing a story breaker. It is nigh impossible to include a benevolent and omnipotent deity while maintaining dramatic tension but Lowder makes it work. The War of the Whispers is as much (or more) spiritual than it is physical. The journey enables Elabea and Galadin to mature and ward off the Cauldron's drone as they make their way to Claire, thus enabling them to become the heroes the world needs to overthrow Ebon. While Manno Vox could airlift Elabea to Claire or defeat all her enemies in place of Galadin, that would defeat the point of the journey; while Galadin defeats trained soldiers on his own without training because of The Only's presence, without personal courage and faith he would lose anyway. It truly is a 'War of the Whispers', instead of a 'war of soldiers'.
However, I have two problems with this plot; an idiot ball in the backstory and a cliff hanger ending.
As for the backstory, Brairtok, the King of Ebon, decimated Claire's Army and killed its leader, Manno Vox, because of a deception that a military leader shouldn't have fallen for. He pretended to have wagons of wounded troops and wanted to pass Manno Vox's lines, presumably to have them treated. Manno Vox allows him to pass without checking the wagons or demanding weapons or anything. Once in their midsts, the ebon soliders wipe out the Claire soldiers and Manno Vox is so shocked by this that Brairtok takes him out with a crossbow. On another occasion, the entire crop of story tellers, the best defense and weapon against Ebon, are given up for execution in exchange for Ebon to retreat from a location. Naturally, they don't retreat.
These two things are a problem because they undermine the premise. I think that if the people in the backstory weren't so stupid, then the bad guys wouldn't have taken over. It breaks my Willing Suspension of Disbelief that Claire with so many soliders and so many storytellers and generally outclassing Ebon in all ways, could have lost so completely that everyone thinks the place is myth one generation later.
As for the cliff hanger ending. I despise cliff hanger endings because I see them as cattle prods. I don't ask for a neat package with a bow on it but I want a sense that this leg of the journey is over. I don't get that here. I feel like there's a chapter missing or an eplilogue that was never written.
It's because of these two problems that, as much as I like it, I can't give this book a perfect score.
The characters are complex are diverse. There are cynics, idealists, cynics who want to be idealists but can't manage it. There are warriors and jesters and badass animal companions and angels! It's a wide cast and Lowder does an admirable job developing them all. It's especially impressive because they don't form a single group and so they can't be developed simultaneously.
Newcomb's party has enough characterization and plot importance to be the main party and so are Elebea and Galadin's fathers back in their hometown and Il-Lilliad's quest for allies.
For a third point, the ebonites are not monolithically evil. They're still evil but in different ways. There are Punch Clock Villains working in the military, Brairtok has this 'glory and power seeker' thing, the Cauldron's Council have this 'evil priesthood' thing and the Cauldron itself is like some primordial First Evil.
There is no word cruft, which is a 'delight'. Also no problems in terms of spelling or grammar. On another note, there are patches in the story that are written in all CAPS. I have no idea what this means so I ignore it. Overall, there's good flow in this storyline.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Tears of Min Brock" a B+
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