Rating: 3 stars
Source: LibraryThing Member Giveaway
Published: By the author in 2010
What the blurb said:
I probably shouldn't get riled up about this book's "blurb" again - suffice it to say, it included what I would consider to be a fairly major spoiler and I've already ranted about it here.
By way of my own description, the novel starts by introducing the three Reaping Keys, guarded in the souls of three separate noble individuals to avoid the apocalyptic event that would be them reuniting and causing utter devastation and chaos. When two are united by Duke Thallan Brael, Jalen and Raven, his novice, are forced to protect the remaining Key and prevent their world being ripped apart.
What I would say:
The story didn't feel entirely original and reminded me both of 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy and 'The Wheel of Time' series but it was reasonably good in its similarities.
The version of magic was interesting and fairly unique - some people can access 'Faith' - those who can are often bound by a Charter to become Dahkshari, protectors and healers of the people. Due to historical upset, all others are forbidden from using their Faith. Those that do so in breach of the law are known as 'sovereigns' or 'heretics', depending on what political side you're on. There were some interesting early discussions about the moral implications of denying the poorer villages the right to use their Faith to maintain their lifestyle, rather than requiring them to move to the cities and under the protection of the Dahkshari but this petered out later on. Great while it lasted...
Future Duchess, Lady Seala, is under the protection of Raven and Jalen in her journey across the plains to a world-changing treaty signing. And it is on this journey that things take a dramatic turn. The length of the journey and its dilemmas were what reminded me of The Fellowship of the Ring (or The Two Towers, I'm not sure...). For me, it was a bit too slowly paced and I felt a bit restless at a couple of points along the way. The action does pick up though and the last couple of hundred pages are fantastically quick and drag the reader along riotously.
My favourite thing (as so often is the case) were the characters. They were fairly complex and the "good" characters had darker elements and all but one of the "bad" characters had some redeemable aspects. Raven is one of the main good characters but harbours a fanatical hatred of the 'heretics' due to a childhood trauma and his dealing with this prejudice is interesting. Equally, Duke Brael is despicable and vile but at times there are glimmers of the grief and fury that drive him on and its difficult not to occasionally sympathise.
This was self-published and, unfortunately and possibly consequently, there were quite a number of grammatical/typing errors which can be annoying if you notice that kind of thing, for example, 'new' instead of 'knew'. One minor character's name is spelt in a couple of different ways and the lack of consistency was a bit irritating.
Also, it seemed as though the story drove the novel and some elements were forgotten or abandoned along the way. Ruby Fenn, for example, is a fantastic character and was one of my favourites who helps draw a lot out of Raven. However, somewhere between page 500 and 600, she just stops being in the story with very little mention of what has happened to her and no mention at all of what will happen to her. Also, some of the minor details, like the fact that the Dahkshari need to sustain their powers by eating a type of herb every day are completely ignored later on when the stock runs out.
It almost seems like the ending was rushed out and the novel is incomplete....I gave it three stars solely mostly because I found the latter half of the story to be quite exciting despite its flaws. Would I read a sequel? Probably not...
Overall: It's an ambitious first novel and good fantasy story but lacking some attention to detail. I'd recommend it but only to real fans of fantasy who are used to the longer, 'epic' type fantasy and a somewhat forgiving reader.
A thought: If you fancy giving 'The Last Key' a try, I think it is currently only available on Smashwords in eBook format.