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Book two of the Sanctuary series by Robert J Crane

Book Review: Avenger

I like this – it is a good book.  I reviewed the first in the series (Defender) earlier this year, and regardless of some critique, I thought it was a good overall read.  This second volume in what is (I gather) quite a long series is a clear step above that first.  Nice work Robert.

Now, I gave the first book “4-stars” on Amazon, and this book too has been given “4-stars”.  But this, rather than being an indication that the two books are on a par, is a symptom of my ineptly designed scoring logic.  I will need to reassess given this outcome.

Looking back at Defender, one of my key problems with the book was the protagonist – Cyrus Davidon.  He was a bit too “heroic”, whilst at the same time being just a bit vanilla.  My main problem was that everything just sort of went his way, and whatever he touched turned to gold, for no real reason other than that he was the hero of the story.  To highlight, he appeared to go from member of a scrabbly threesome to General of an army in under a year – tantamount to progressing from selling lemonade in your front garden to CEO of Coca-Cola in a year.  Unlikely.

But we do not have the same problem here.

Part of this is the fact that Cyrus has already plateaued, and he therefore has less stellar acceleration to achieve.  But even though he has reached a plain – he doesn’t really progress in ‘authoritarian’ terms over the course of the book – his journey as a man is far more interesting.  He has two key ‘problems’ to occupy him: one of them is a promised vengeance for his old friend; and the other is a quite amusingly prickly relationship with a comrade.  Both these aspects were present in the first book, but they were less vivid and less emotionally developed.  Here they come to the fore, and where Cy overcomes one, the other is still very much live, and encourages you to read on.  Job done!  And more than that, there is now something a bit mysterious and prophetic about our protagonist, which will be really interesting if it is developed in the right way (which I believe it will be).

Another problem I had with Defender was the size of the cast.  I don’t think that this has actually reduced all that much in Avenger, but peculiarly it doesn’t feel anywhere as big as it did in the first book.  Maybe this has come from experience with the author and the series, but there was a much more obvious sense of “who’s who” which was good – and also a better sense of “who’s important”.  That’s not to say I was 100% clear on all involved, because I did make the mistake of believing Cass was a woman until the very end when I think I was proven otherwise!  Please correct me accordingly Robert…

In fact, Robert adds even more characters here without it seeming daunting, which is great.  And we also have some new characters who draw us forward in the series, which is another big green tick from me.

I think that my third problem with the first book was the imagined world itself – the magic rules were just too loose for my comfort.  This is still the case in this book (Robert could hardly change the rules halfway through!) but I must iterate that this is very much a question of taste.  Fantasy is just that – fantasy – and no-one bar the author has rights over the specific nuances of how that world operates.  Opinions – yes; rights – no.  And although I think Robert does a great job bringing his world together so that it does hang as a challenging environment – as mentioned in the previous blog, we have gods roaming the world; demons; etc. to put the scope of magic into context – it is still quite a challenge to buy into.  The major problem I have is the resurrection that takes place.  For me, it cheapens the act of death, which is a rather powerful tool in most fiction.

Having said that, I do think Robert has continued to improve his articulation of the finer details pertaining to his imagined world.  The things that stand out are the examples of severe discomfort at “dying” and then being brought back to life.  I’m pretty sure this was also seen in Defender, but I probably skirted over it a bit because I hadn’t fully engaged with the characters yet.  Here it sticks out, probably because of the association between this finer detail and the main characters’ relationship challenges.

So, overall we have a more comfortable journey through the book; and the experience is lightened by some great snippets of comedy too – or at least little quips which made me laugh out loud.  This is great.

What next I hear you cry?  Well, Robert has stayed true to his structure of jumping from the present to the past, and back to the present for the Epilogue – and this does rather intrigue.  It offers suggestive information as to what is to come, and the more that is revealed in the body of the story, the more power these book-end snippets have.  All of the key protagonists are coming good, and there is also some tasty friction building up which looks like it could create some excellent action later in the series.  So, all in all, I will definitely be reading on – not least because the first three books are free on Amazon!

So – why didn’t I give this 5 stars?  I would like to say that I have a strict set of criteria for scoring a book 5, but given my earlier confession, this has already been exposed as a lie!  My main residual reservations are as follows:

  • The world itself (as mentioned above): this does work as a story and a concept, but it is purely a question of the balance of taste.  I am certainly willing to forgive this, and am eager to read on regardless, but it does sit at the back of my head.  I hope that Robert’s end-game extravaganza proves me wrong!
  • The writing is very much improved in this book, but there is still a roughness to it – the odd word that’s not necessary, and which elongates a statement, slowing the pace involuntarily.  And there is the odd spelling mistake (or rather incorrect word) which just trips up and jars.  Not serious problems by any means, but just enough to drop it a notch.
  • The language: this is probably taste as-well, but the language used by the characters feels just slightly out of place in what is essentially a medieval fantasy world.  There is a little bit too much 21st century about it – only a bit, but it is telling.  Of course, there is no reason why the characters of this fantasy world wouldn’t speak like this, but I find it just a tiny bit jarring.  And if Robert subsequently reveals this as a post-apocalyptic world based on 29th century US, then I may be well and truly proven wrong – but I can’t see this coming at the moment.

Overall, a great read, and I look forward to venturing into the next volume in the series – it’s already downloaded.