The Realms Thereunder by Ross Lawhead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Have you ever been so wrapped up in a historical period, that you wish you could have lived there? I think that's what happened to Ross Lawhead: at some point, he started studying early Medieval England and thought to himself "gosh, I wish there were still knights and monsters and magic and adventure today." And then he wrote a book about all of those things existing.
At least, I assume that's what happened, because that's what The Realms Thereunder is: a ~400 page story about two people discovering that there are still knights fighting evil in England. I'm not going to say why, because that's not actually very relevant to the book. In fact, this book really seems like nothing more than a lead-up to the book that Ross Lawhead really wants to write, which presumably will be the next one in the series.
So, some strengths and weaknesses of the book.
Strengths: Ross Lawhead clearly has great potential as a writer. His prose flows well, and he is excellent at blending action and dialogue, often in fairly unique ways. Moreover, he manages to work in his worldview in a way that blends well with the story and isn't at all preachy. Apparently, this is part of a trilogy (at least, that's what the front cover says), and book one makes you want to know what happens next.
Weaknesses: Ross Lawhead isn't terribly original. This book is really just a combination of several different fantasy ideas (even horcruxes make an appearance). Even more than that, his characters are wooden, and he occasionally forgets (or ignores) the backstory he's built up for them. For example, the first few chapters focus on the clinical OCD of one of the main characters, which then disappears through the rest of the book. I don't want to be too harsh, since he seems to be a young-ish writer (even with a great writer like Stephen Lawhead for a father, it takes time to grow those sorts of skills), but he definitely needs to up his game a bit if he's going to be writing 1,000 page trilogies dealing with the weighty issues he's raised in this book.
Also, and this is more of an editorial criticism, this book really needed another once-over. Spelling, word usages, grammar, and even occasionally mixing up characters definitely distract from the reading of this book.
Overall, it's a readable book, and I will likely pick up the next in the series just to find out what happens (especially if I get it for free to review... hint hint). Even more than that, I look forward to seeing Ross Lawhead develop as a writer so he can get down to the business of cranking out five-star material...
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