Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Answering Review Request: "When They Shine Brightest"

Yordan Zhelyazkov asked me to read his novel "When they Shine Brightest". It is set in a stone age society that's vaguely Aztec in its culture and also has some minor fantasy elements. I will examine plot, character and polish and then assign a grade.


The prologue is the last moments of a battle. It has gone badly for our protagonist, Korsak, and now he's trying to escape with the corpse of his son. The bulk of the rest of the book is the aftermath of this battle. They are in two parts; the immediate aftermath to six months, and then a full year afterward. This is marked by a subtitle at the start of each chapter saying "X days since the fall of Seten"  
The focus of the story jumps back and forth between the two of them, with the former shedding light on the circumstances of the latter as both progress. This has the effect of creating a Foregone Conclusion because the existence of the later plotline precludes anything developing in the former plotline. It also drags them both out because they are interrupted. For these two reasons, and because the two are only tangentially related, then as a reader, I would have preferred seeing them as two separate stories. (I don't give opinions as a writer because that's not my place.)
Both plotlines read like a family drama. There is child raising trouble, martial affairs, strained relationships with adult children etc.
There is a another plot thread of a power struggle between the native religious leaders of Seten, the Mothers, and a foreign conqueror who also has a religious standing as "the vanguard". This causes trouble for Korsak and his family but its main function is to underscore and amplify the family drama. This only shifts for the climax.
The world building is nice. It is interesting. It is a mix of real life stuff and some home grown practices. Best of all, Mr. Zhelyazkov develops his world without using As You Know. Instead, he has his protagonist reflect and contemplate on this world and its culture, which serves the double purpose of developing him as well.

The climax is also great. It is a culmination of all the book's plot threads and has a number of nice twists. The ending is satisfying both in that it closes the book's conflict and opens future conflict; a sequel hook.


Arty is one of two main characters and she is my favorite character. She's cute. She's brave. She's resourceful. At once she is both child-like and wiser than one would expect a pre-teen to be. I don't mean this in the sense that she is stoic but that she is plucky. She gets scared and she cries at sad times but she keeps moving. She also becomes a Fluffy Tamer, which is cool.

Korsak is the second of two main characters and he is a conflicted and broken man. The Fall of Seten, and the results of its immediate aftermath have turned him into a mild death seeker. When the story begins he beseeches the gods to "reincarnate me already" because he's given up on himself and his world and his society.  Watching his internal struggle between religious devotee and despairing/angry apostate is quite interesting, as well as the choices he makes to preserve at least one part of his family.

It's interesting, on reflection, that there is no Big Bad in this story. It's not easy to create a true case of Grey and Grey morality that causes antagonists to look good from their own angles.

 Krul is the warlord who conquered Seten and now seeks to bend the Mothers to his will to increase his spiritual/political standing but he is without malice in the story. Indeed, he keeps saying about how much he wants to save everyone in Seten from something in the north east and is generally polite (if smug).  

The Mothers abuse Korsak as a scapegoat for the Fall of Seten, and allegedly caused the trouble with Krul. This makes them much less sympathetic but Krul is trying to obtain a dangerous item from them and has been conquering tribes for a long while. It's understandable that they would resist him.


There were one or two grammar problems but considering this story was translated from Bulgarian into English I'd say it looks fantastic. I wouldn't have suspected if I wasn't told.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "When They Shine Brightest" a B

Click here to read the next review (which is not a request): Laddertop books 1-2 combo

Click here to read the previous review request: Burd the Abduction

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