Thursday, July 21, 2016
A Quest of Heroes, by Morgan Rice
I want to start off by saying that I tried to give this book a fair shake, I really did. I had concerns in the beginning, but I wanted to give it a try and figured there was a chance it would turn out okay. Unfortunately the last chapter left me rolling my eyes with frustration and I kept putting my kindle down. There isn't anything particularly offensive or wrong about this book, it's just not terribly well written and...I really don't have a better word to describe it than dumb.
The book starts out okay as a pretty standard fantasy story. We meet Thor, a shepherd boy who's finally turned fourteen and is old enough to join the Legion, a unit of the king's army that's basically the only path of social advancement in the kingdom. Thor dreams of joining the Legion and eventually the Silver, the elite corps of knights, along with all the honor, titles, and lands that comes with it. Selection day approaches and a group of the Silver visits Thor's village to choose boys to become recruits for the Legion. Thor's three older brothers, and his father's favorites, are selected, but Thor is left behind. Despondent, Thor goes into the forest where he meets a druid, is told he has to find his destiny, unlocks a mysterious magical power that lets him kill a monster, and he runs away to join the Legion despite not having an invitation.
It's pretty standard fantasy fare. Thor's the Chosen One. No, seriously, Rice uses the actual words Chosen One. I wasn't entirely sure if it was meant to be satirical, but I'm pretty sure it was being played completely straight in the book. And honestly? I'm not as bothered by what happens afterwards in the book. Now, in this book they don't explicitly state that Thor's the Chosen One but, come on. He's a simple shepherd boy that everyone thinks looks like a noble and has mysterious magical powers. Do you seriously think he isn't the Chosen One? I kind of wonder why Rice didn't have at least a confirmation that Thor's the Chosen One in the first book. That's kind of a thing that you do to set up the rest of the series, but maybe because the series is just so long they decided to keep it for later. Anyway, kingdom, prophecy, magic sword, chosen one, all the rest, you know the drill by now so that's enough about that.
If the book had just been a standard fantasy quest, in the vein of Lord of the Rings or Belgariad, it would have been okay. I probably wouldn't have cared for it much because I'm honestly kind of burned out on those sorts of books, but it would have been okay. The problem is so much of the writing is inconsistent or the other things Rice decides to throw in are just...dumb and the last chapter takes it to new heights of ridiculousness. A good example is things start appearing in the narrative that weren't there before. At the end of one chapter Thor goes off to meet someone in a courtyard and in the next chapter he's looking for a door with a red handle. I went back and double-checked because I thought I could have missed it but no, there was no door with a red handle mentioned in the previous chapter. I'm aware that's kind of nit-picky of me, but it's a little confusing when things show up in the narrative that weren't there before. Or Rice forgot things they already put in the book, such as Thor getting drunk. There's a scene in an alehouse where Thor admits that he's only had a few sips of ale before, except at a wedding in an earlier chapter Thor drinks so much ale he ends up having a hangover the next morning. So, he's already been drunk. We as the readers have seen it and I didn't get the impression Thor was trying to lie because Rice acted like it was the first time he had alcohol again. It just feels like they weren't paying attention to what they had and hadn't already put into the book.
Another thing that bothered me was some of the comments made about Thor, specifically the fact other characters joke that he hasn't bedded a woman yet. Might I remind you, Thor has just turned fourteen and probably isn't old enough to shave, much less have a tumble in the hay. If he was eighteen it'd be slightly more believable for him to be drinking and wenching and so on, but fourteen seems a little to young for that. It just felt weird to me. A further part that doesn't make sense is the scene where the king has to choose a successor from among his children, in accordance with the traditions of the kingdom. His first son isn't eligible to inherit because he's illegitimate, his second son is shifty and evil so he's out, and his third son is a drunkard so he's not a good choice either. That leaves his daughter and his son, both of whom are fine candidates, although his last son is about two years younger than his daughter. The weird thing is he decides that his daughter should inherit because she's slightly older, despite there not being a tradition of female inheritance. Honestly this doesn't make sense to me because it's not like he has to abdicate right away or anything. The king's planning to remain on the throne for a number of years before his heir will have to take over. So his youngest son being only fourteen isn't really an impediment. Actually it may be a benefit because that means you'll have the longest time to groom him and prepare him for the responsibility of leadership. It's just the most backwards way of designating a leader that it doesn't make sense.
The thing that really annoyed me was the very end of the book which I'd feel bad about spoiling except since this is the first of seventeen books I'm hardly talking about anything significant. Basically Thor has a vision that the king is going to be poisoned and he rushes back to prevent it from happening. Except he's told the king's away and won't be back until tonight for the feast. So, you know, pretty serious situation, right? King's in danger. Thor's the only one who can help, ticking clock and so on. And by this point in the book it's already been established that there are people who believe Thor and recognize he has magical powers. Heck, a whole stadium of people saw him use magic once and they had the first of many awards ceremonies for the things he's done. So there are people who if he told, ''Hey, the king's in danger.'' they'd believe him.
So what does he do? Does he go for help? Does he let his friend, the king's youngest son know? Does he raise the alarm? No. He goes for a joy ride all day with the knight he's squire for. (Again, another person he could have told about this.)
...seriously. The king is in danger. Time is of the essence. And the Chosen One goes on a joy ride for most of the day and then unnecessarily has to rush back to save the king in time. You didn't think that maybe being close by so you could warn the king in advance might have been important? Even for a fourteen year old this seems particularly dumb. Anyway, Thor manages to get back in time, nobody believes him, then he sees the poisoned cup and knocks it out of the king's hands. People are shocked but then a dog drinks the wine and dies so they realize it's poisoned and then they accuse him of being the poisoner because he knew which cup it was in. Which makes absolutely no sense because he's been personally rewarded by the king twice before already for acts of bravery. He's friends with two of the king's sons. An entire stadium of people witnessed him use magic and know he has special powers. Furthermore he rushed trying to warn the king that someone was going to try to poison him ahead of time. And yet everyone immediately assumes he's the poisoner and they throw him in prison? It just doesn't make sense. It's like the author had to create a conflict for the next book to resolve really quickly and so they threw something together and it feels incredibly haphazard.
This book starts out okay but starts going downhill and by the end it's just an absolute mess. In the last chapter it feels like everyone's forgotten everything Thor did over the past two weeks or so and he's suddenly got no friends at court and nobody trusts him. The story is inconsistent and it feels like Rice wasn't keeping track of what they had and hadn't already put into the book which is a serious issue from a continuity standpoint if nothing else. I wouldn't recommend reading this book and I'm certainly not going to expend the time and effort to read the other sixteen.