Thaddeus White asked me to read "Journey to Altmortis" for review. It's about a pair of siblings tracking two thieves that stole family heirlooms to the dead city of Altmortis. I will examine plot, characters, and polish and then assign a grade.
What I like most about this book is that it reads like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. A group of adventurers traveling to a monster infested dungeon to find treasure is classic. I can imagine someone homebrewing this and a lot of people choosing Kuhrlanders as their player character because Kuhrlanders are awesome. As for the plot itself......
The title is apt because this truly is the "Journey to Altmortis"; a significant chunk of the plot and the first arc of the story is simply reaching the place. There are mundane challenges to be overcome in addition to the fantastic typical in this sort of story.
For instance there is a problem of logistics. Altmortis is a Kurhland city which means it is deep inside a bitterly cold country that is currently in winter. The party has to buy warmer clothes and one of their party, a dwarf, has to make do with furs wrapped around his feet inside his boots because even the local children have bigger feet than he does. Also, food is a constant concern. "Do we have enough food to reach the next city" is regularly brought up and "we can only stay x more days in Altmortis before we run out of food" is regularly stated. While there are many games with this sort of plot "go to the dungeon and reach this treasure" few of them require the player to bring along essentials like food or water to preserve their character's health.
Then there's the fantastic aspect. One obstacle the party must overcome is the Blutwald, a cursed forest. It's played up like an Eldritch Location because it is the only place in Kuhrland which is not covered in snow and the all the trees are blood red. These are carnivorous trees; touch them and they'll eat you. It's touch and go for the party. They also encounter a village of human-like demons which brings to mind the classic Always Chaotic Evil humanoid races like orcs or goblins. They have special abilities, a savage nature, and endanger all passerbys.
The ending is fantastic. It's just the kind of ending I like to see. The results of the campaign, no loose ends, but there is a surprise waiting there. It was an emotional experience and a twist on a theme the book developed through it's whole length.
Now comes the part of the review where I list the things I disliked. There are three in total; a curious break in the realism at one point, a deus ex machina, and something about a villain. For the first, there are monsters in Altmortis and the party fights a great deal of them in narrow hallways and my problem has to do with the corpses. Eventually they should pile up but this doesn't happen. It's jarring considering the attention to realism and logistics earlier in the book. For two, a number of the heroes are trapped by the monsters and certain that they will go down fighting but the monsters withdraw all of a sudden. It wouldn't be a problem if a chekhov's gun had been dropped earlier, but as it was, it felt cheap. For three, a villain other than the heirloom thieves is involved in the story and follows the Protagonists to Altmortis but he doesn't affect the plot until the end and only for a chapter. His plot arc feels like fat on an otherwise lean story. Considering this is a not-quite-sequel, I assume it has something to do with the previous book. It's not a big deal but I'd like to know the backstory.
Characters are good. The opening scenes provide lots of detail for characters; physical traits, nationality, personality traits, etc. There's so much I was confused at first. Cultural posturing is put to good use here. As the Dennish and Felarian and Kuhrland people take potshots at each other's culture, both that culture and themselves are developed but in a way that feels like showing instead of telling.
What I want to highlight is how this party runs the full spectrum of anti-heroes. From the heroic character that thinks little of herself to the heroic assholes to the guys that would be your enemies if someone paid them enough to the guy that is trying to steal from the others every night. In a group of thieves and mercenaries, these kinds of differences do wonders to flesh everybody out.
Roger the Goat gets a paragraph all to himself because he is my favorite. He's a dwarf (not a goat) and serves as the party's thief. He has little to do on the way to Altmortis so he amuses himself by throwing snowballs at Fritigen and then running away before the big guy can catch him. He is simultaneously the most the most heroic of the group and the Token Evil Teammate; it's a weird combination.
I didn't see anything major in terms of spelling or grammar problems, but I do have something to say about pacing. It's about the villain side plot I mentioned earlier. Not only is this guy unrelated to the main plot but he tells a minion of his to stir up trouble in the protagonist's home while he's away. This leads to a C plot that is resolved quickly and does nothing for the main plot. It's not uninteresting to say the least (on the contrary I liked reading it) but it throws off the pacing of the main story. If I were the editor of a publishing house then cutting it out would be an obvious choice. At most I'd save it as a short story for some "Thaddeus White-The Complete Collection" package.
Grading this story was difficult. There are flaws in this story but it was hard for me to decide whether or not they were significant enough to affect the grade. I want to give this book a perfect score but the deus ex machine (however minor) is a weakness in the narrative and ruins my enjoyment of what could have been a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Journey to Altmortis" an A.
This is a free review request. All I received in exchange for this review was a free copy of the book.
Click here for the previous review (which was not a review request): Ophelia
Click here for another book in the same universe and by the same author: Kingdom Asunder
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).