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Salvation’s Dawn

Book one of the Eve of Redemption by Joe Jackson

Book Review: Salvation’s Dawn

The mother of all wars is over, but there is no rest for Kari. Her religious order calls her to investigate curious happenings, and the threat of another war looms large. She joins a group of mercenaries, heading off around the world. But this will not be only about the mission. There is a darkness lying deep inside Kari, and it trumps anything she might be called to battle with a sword. It is time she faced up to it.

Overall I like this book. The core concepts are rather interesting, and there is enough complexity to keep the mind jumbled for life. The plot of Salvation’s Dawn itself is relatively simple, but there are also sharp undertones which guide us towards the inevitable sequels. There were a number of things that didn’t work for me, but mostly I was contented. I won’t jump straight into the sequel, but I will add it to my to-read list.

At its core this fantasy book is about racial matters and the cost of military service on a personal life. In a genre of macho heroes, this is a refreshing focus. The fantasy world is one where gods and demons walk amongst mortals and this isn’t quite my thing, but it is done well. The gods aren’t too intrusive, at least not yet.

The story is told through the eyes of Kari, and this is good. There are two interesting things about Kari: firstly she is not human; and secondly… I’ll leave that for the book. Ultimately Kari has led a life of war, and she is left with a gap where her other self has given way. And this is part of what the book tackles: how Kari moves on. A pleasing change from the arc of most heroes.

But the book is not just about Kari, which is a bit confusing. We are left assuming that the story is third person singular, which it is for the first 60%. Then our party gets split up, and suddenly we have a second point of view to deal with. Slightly odd, but it does work. Robert Jordan did it, so hey! And Aeligos (our second perspective) has his own intrigues too.

But then there is a section of text where we hop violently from head to head, and this sharp change in perspective is really jarring. Is the book omniscient? It doesn’t feel it.

That short flurry aside though, it does have a clear third-person focus, and written in a relatively distant style, as is the classic fantasy way. Overall it works.

So, what are the best bits about this book? Well my favourite thing is the focus on personal aspects. It gives it a refreshing feel compared to other books in the genre, and although some of these aspects are handled quite slowly, they are definitely of benefit to the book as a whole. Great ideas.

And then we have the racial aspects, and the vast array of different species involved. Our caste is part rir (Kari), mostly demon (Aeligos), with a couple of humans thrown in largely at the periphery. These different races are well researched with their own histories and their own distinct looks, but there are some downsides here too. It can be a bit overwhelming at times (check out the glossary for a taste!)

There is something funny with the racial interactions too. Our protagonists focus heavily on the visible characteristics of these different races (the colour of hair; now big is the snout; how pronounced are the teeth), and this feels a bit fake. Flip this inside out, and given the racial variation on offer, almost all of the characters are will within the human spectrum. Not necessarily a problem, but it feels like more could have been made of this great perspective.

The other thing I really like is the complexity of the imagined world: it is well researched. I’m not a huge fan of worlds where the mortal and immortal realms collide, but it is certainly well-defined. There are clear points of info-dump, and there’s plenty of information that is relayed without being obviously relevant, but the research can’t be faulted! It certainly presents a rich canvas for the ongoing series.

Was there anything I didn’t like? Maybe a few things.

This is a long book. Too long? In my opinion, yes. As an example, I think the first 10% can be summarised as follows: Kari gets an order from her boss; goes to nearest city; talks to priest; spends a night in an inn; goes into town; buys an apple. Ten percent, and that is ten percent of a big book. Now the pace certainly picks up, but there is a lot of weight that could be trimmed back, and I think it would benefit. But I implore you: push through. It is a good story at its core.

There are also a lack of obvious pinch points in the book. There is a quick prologue at outset which paints a problem, but this problem then becomes a very distant target which only really comes into focus in the last quarter. Without that prologue, you may be forgiven for wondering where it is going at all!

The other thing that wasn’t quite for me is the distancing nature of the writing. I know that many fantasy books adopt a more distancing style, but I found my mind wandering at times. It is probably a combination of distance and info overload, and ultimately it is a smaller point, but one I thought was worth jotting down.

Overall though I was satisfied with the outcome and there will undoubtedly be a rich series to follow! Kari certainly has an interesting past, and as we find out more, her future seems destined to be full of adventure too.