Thursday, December 10, 2009

Servant of A Dark God by John Brown

Posted by Simcha 6:45 PM, under | 3 comments

Servant of a Dark God, is John Brown's debut novel; a unique epic fantasy that was released by Tor this past August.

Talen resides on a farm with his father and two older siblings living a rather uneventful life consisting of working in the field, caring for the animals and trying to stay two steps ahead of his wily brother and sister. But all that changes the day that Talen sets off to do some trade at the nearby village and nearly gets killed by a mob of crazed villages who suspect Talen of being Sleth. Sleth, Talen knows from the stories, are people who accept the twisted power of the god Regret, and use it to suck the fire and soul out of others and then use the bodies of their victims in horrible ways. When a visiting Fir- Nor priest claims that some recent attacks were due to Sleth in the vicinity, Talen becomes the scapegoat.

When Talen is finally released, bloodied and bruised, he is determined that he himself will capture the escaped Sleth, thereby earning both reward money and respect. But Talen’s plans go awry when those Sleth children turn out to be hiding on his very farm, being protected by his family and putting all of their lives on the line. Suddenly Talen and his family find themselves being attacked on all sides as they are hunted by the local authority, the Fir-Noy priests and a mysterious, frightening monster who no one can stand against. Not only that, but Talen soon discovers that his family has been keeping secrets from him, deadly secrets that could get them all killed and which reveal that no one in his family are what they seem, including himself.

I enjoyed reading Servant of a Dark God, though on finishing it I’m not quite sure how I felt about the book as a whole. The story starts out lightheartedly with Talen being chased up a tree by his siblings after he hides some of their belongings. The story progresses at a good pace, slowly building in intensity but peppered with some amusing scenes and playful banter. At one point I had to take a break from the book because everything seemed so bleak and hopeless that I couldn’t see a way out for the characters, but I persevered, and was glad for it.

I think the character building was very well done, with some of the characters slowly being revealed to the reader in the process of the story-telling and others growing and maturing as they discover themselves and what they are capable of. Sugar, in particular, is a wonderful character who faces the challenges thrown at her, head-on, and shows remarkable strength and bravery, as well as wit and humor. I enjoyed watching the relationship between Sugar and Talen tenuously develop. Talen, on the other hand, is full of self-doubt and fear. He just wants to hand over Sugar and her brother to the authorities, collect the reward, and avoid being killed. He is not your average hero, but he is a regular guy reacting in a realistic manner to the frightening situation he suddenly finds himself in. Although I wished he would give Sugar a chance and stop trying to think of a way to capture or kill her, I respected the fact that he does actually behave in a realistic way. And as the story progresses, Talen slowly matures as a character, coming to terms with the truth about his family and himself, especially as he realizes that he and Sugar are not so different.

The monster itself is also an interesting character. Each person he has consumed became a part of him and so he is aware that the very people he is hunting down were once his friends, but he will continue to capture them because it’s the only way he can save the souls of his wife and children, by acquiescing to the demand of his mistress.


The only problem with the book for me was that I never really got a good handle on all the various religions, gods and political factions that the story revolves around, or even a proper understanding of the magic system. I don’t know if this is due to the writing or maybe I’ve just overdosed on fantasy reading and made-up religions and governments. I never really grasped what the Divines were, what the Order was and how the Bone Faces fit into it all, or even what a Sleth was, all of which are central to the story. So while I was enjoying the story itself, a lot of essential information was going over my head which makes me feel like I only read half of the book.

Since I really enjoyed the characters, and watching them develop, I will probably be following them to the sequel,
Dark God’s Glory, which will be released in 2011, to find out where it takes them.

3 comments:

This sounds like a book I would like to do with my discussion friends. We try to pull a book apart to help us get a better understanding of the religions and magic systems, along with the characters and where the story is going. It sounds to me as the author may be winding up for an epic series. I will have to take a look into this one too.

Thanks for the great review!

Wow, that sounds like an intense book club you've got there. If you do read this book I'd be interested in hearing if you found the religious and political aspects as confusing as I did, or if it's just me. I think an interesting comparison would be between Talen and Garion, from David Edding's Pawn of Prophecy, and perhaps with other farm-boy protagonist of epic fantasies. I was tempted to touch upon this in my review but then it would have just been way too long.

I got lucky over at Barnes and Nobles book site. There is a form there that they do features each month in different genres. I met a few other people there in the Fantasy and Science Fiction that like the same books as me and we like to pull them apart and discuss them. We even try reading only so far in a book, stopping, then discussing it to help us along in the reading pleasure. We like to speculate on what will happen in the books as well. Maybe if you want stop over at Barnes and Nobles site to check it out. We are currently not on any reads, with all the craziness of the season but I am hoping we will pick back up in the new year. It would be cool to have more people join in with us.

I don't know when or if we will get to this book, but if we do I will have to let you know.

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