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Fantasy Review: The Riven Kingdom (Godspeaker 02) and Hammer of God (Godspeaker 03) by Karen Miller

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The Riven Kingdom 02:
The King of Ethrea is dying. His only surviving heir is the Princess Rhian. But if her enemies have their way, Ethrea will not be ruled by a woman.
Dexterity Jones is a toymaker. To protect Princess Rhian and his country, he must place his trust in an exile from Mijak. Yet, as Ethrea comes ever closer to civil war, a greater danger awaits.
Across the sea, an Empress has already slaughtered millions in the name of her god. And the war will not end -until the world kneels before her.

Hammer of God 03:
In Ethrea, Rhian sits upon a precarious throne. Defiant dukes who won’t accept her rule threaten the stability of her kingdom. Dexterity has been banished from her court in disgrace. The blue-haired slave Zandakar, the man she thought was her friend, has been revealed as the son of a woman sworn to destroy her world. And Rhian’s husband, King Alasdair, is unsure of her love.
The trading nations refuse to believe Mijak is a threat, and promise reprisals if she dares protect her realm. Only Emperor Han of mysterious Tzhung-tzhungchai knows that the danger from Mijak is real.
But is he an ally, or an enemy in disguise? As she struggles to learn the truth, and keep her embattled crown, the murderous warhost of Mijak advances …

My impressions:

I admit that after reading Empress I waited for the continuation of the series with very high expectations. I wanted to find out about the fates of Zandakar and his half-brother Dmitrak, not to mention their mother, Hekat, a psychopat who was very interesting to read about. I also was intrigued by the promise of other, less violent and bloody characters, more civilized and definitely more likeable, like Rhian, the unwilling queen-warrior, Dexterity Jones, the toymaker-turned-a-prophet, Alastair, the King consort and proud of it, and Ursa, the healer. Unfortunately as soon as I started reading the second part I felt as if I was cheated and given a book from a quite different series and different genre.

Please don’t get me wrong – I don’t mean here I missed the cruel scenes, full of slaughter, blood drinking, scorpions stinging and other sadistic punishment. I didn’t miss Hekat and her unrelented egotism. I missed an interesting character development and a plot which would make me forget the world around me and keep reading no matter what. I missed heroes and heroines which actually made sense and were funny. I was prepared to like the series, really. Unfortunately the novels let me down.

Overall my impressions can be summed up this way (spoilers ahead!):

Rhian: Yee-haaaw, I am the Queen now! Oh, what a handsome stranger with blue eyes, blue hair and perfect musculature! So tall and mysterious and…I WANT! Oooups…I’ve just married Alastair, my childhood friend, now a completely plain man and a bore…I WANT!

Dexterity Jones: His name is Zandakar, my Queen, I bought him off a slaver and his past hides a lot of ugly secrets I know but can’t divulge. He also wields a knife like an artist, just watch him dance his hotas!

Rhian: I WANT!

Zandakar: Zho!
(they dance close to each other but the tension never increases, go figure… or maybe it means *hint, hint, wink, wink, nudge, nudge* that they are not meant to be together? Like not even one kiss will be exchanged? Eh…life…)

Alastair, the freshly married King consort: You can’t trust that Zandakar, Rhian! He looks at you in a completely inappropriate way and he is wayyyy too handsome and too dangerous! Stop it immediately! Don’t trust him!

Rhian: I don’t trust him at all, dear hubby, fear not! *silently* I WANT!
(she returns to the hotas and her muscled teacher and they dance together).

Dexterity Jones: How can you not trust him?
*silently*
Yes, he used to be a mass murderer and a war criminal but look, now he is repenting, as docile as a lamb!
*louder*
By the way we need him very badly, I know it from the best source, my late wife! We will be attacked soon and he is our only chance!

Zandakar: Zho!

Rhian: Right, now I understand: we need him and I WANT!

The chorus of ambassadors and soldiers:
We dooon’t truuuuust Zandakar, we dooon’t truuuuuust Zandakar, we dooon’t truuuuust Zandakar!!!

Zandakar: Wei? Tcha!

Rhian: Wei? Tcha! I mean you don’t trust him? How could you? He is our only chance, we need him and we must trust him a little bit! *dances the hotas with Zandakar again*

Alastair, the King consort: No, no, no, we don’t need him and you can’t trust him, dear wife! Get away from him! Dance with me!

Rhian: But you can’t dance dear hubby! *dances with Zandakar some more*

The chorus of ambassadors and soldiers:
We dooon’t truuuuust Zandakar, we doooon’t truuuuuust Zandakar, we dooon’t truuuuust Zandakar!!!

Zandakar: Wei!?!? *he slashes his arm and swears on his blood that he can be trusted. Unfortunately almost nobody understands*.

Rhian: Oh, look, he’s sworn a blood oath! I trust him, not completely but a tiny little bit more, anyway enough to keep him very close by, my kingdom needs him and I WANT! *dances her hotas with Zandakar*.

Dexterity Jones: Awww, look at them two together! They are so clearly in love with each other! And they fit ! What a pity she is married and he is a mass murderer and a war criminal who most probably cannot be trusted…

Rhian: WHAT?!?! Why nobody told me that much earlier? Now I am addicted to him and his hotas and I WANT! What I am supposed to do?

The chorus of ambassadors and soldiers:
We dooon’t truuuuust Zandakar, we dooon’t truuuuuust Zandakar, we dooon’t truuuuust Zandakar!!!

Zandakar: Tcha! *he dances with his knife even quicker to prove his point and Rhian, after a while, dances with him. You see, she has some knights to kill*.

Alastair the King consort: *cries*
booo…my wife doesn’t love me anymore and we don’t even have a child! Not to mention the fact that a powerful army of heathen barbarians is attacking us mercilessly, led by Zandakar’s mommy dearest and his sociopath brother…boooo… Zandakar, save us!

The chorus of ambassadors and soldiers:
We dooon’t truuuuust Zandakar, we dooon’t truuuuuust Zandakar, we dooon’t truuuuust Zandakar!!!

Dexterity Jones: No problemo, Your Highness, we will be saved or I’ll eat my wooden toys! Just let Zandakar find out who his real dad is, kill his closest family and all will be peachy!

Zandakar: Zho! *he kills his brother, Dmitrak, who had killed Vortka, Zandakar’s real dad, and his mum so he surely should have died long time ago and nobody would cry a lot, right?*

Rhian: Hurray, we are free! Unfortunately I can’t think of my personal happiness anymore because Zandakar must gather his people and lead them back to their horrible country and I am the local Queen…oh, only hotas will remain with me, keeping me warm and fuzzy…and I must stay with my Alastair…ugly, boring Alastair…*she cries and cries and cries*….ZANDAKAR, I WANT!!!

Alastair the King consort: HA! *he looks askance at his wife and then rubs his hands, very pleased with himself*.

Zandakar: Zho! *He takes his people and sails away*.

Dexterity Jones: Oh, fine, I can return to whittling my wooden toys…and of course I am going with Zandakar. He is a widower, I am a widower, he’s lost his love, I’ve lost my love, he isn’t mad about ladies, I am not mad about ladies, he is well-built, I am nimble with my fingers…

Rhian: WHAT?!?! *she looks at them wide-eyed and shakes head* You can’t trust anybody nowadays…

THE END.

Final verdict:
It seems to me that after writing the first, relatively good part of Godspeaker Karen Miller got really scared. She started a Dark Fantasy series full of blood, abuse, torture and psychos, yikes! Then she decided to improve that without any further ado and penned two following books with far nicer characters: fluffy, kinder, civilized and completely boring. She also successfully emasculated the poor son of Hekat and tamed that bitch Empress as well. Tcha! The result is not impressive to say the least of it.

Fantasy Review: ‘Empress’ by Karen Miller

Aieee!  You’re looking at a nice painting of a forest.  Seems pretty good, nicely detailed, and you are thinking it is pretty realistic.  But you make the mistake of looking at it a little closer and it all starts to fall apart.  It is like the painter has a good idea of what a forest looks like from a distance, but it’s a little fuzzy on the details.  Looking closely you realize the painter doesn’t have a clue what individual trees should look like.  Little details are wrong, hidden well if skimmed over but glaring if ones eye rest on it too long.  This is the world that Karen Millar has built in ‘Empress.’  While incredibly interesting the world is built almost lazily, changing at times to fit the author’s needs.  Throw in some strange language choices and a complete lack of interesting characters and you will find one frustrating book.

Aieee!  A girl with no name is sold into slavery.  She is told she is a jewel and is taken from wastelands into a big city.  She learns her fate is to be sold again as a bed slave and mutilates her face while running away.  The rest of the book tells of her rise in power in a land where the bloodthirsty god is always present, Godspeakers roam the streets smiting sinners and warlords get ready for battle.  It is a nasty land full of nasty people.

Aieee!  I want to start with a confession; I didn’t go into the book with the best intentions.  Nothing to do with the author, I actually found this book on the recommendation list of an author who’s opinion I often enjoy.  But when picking what to read next I skimmed a lot of reviews in which smug reviewers tell others that the reason they didn’t like this book is because they just didn’t get it.  “You’re not supposed to like the characters, it is the story of the villain, and it just didn’t fit your expectations.”  Taking it as a challenge in a way I wanted to see if these reviewers were right; after all I have a history of enjoying books with unlikeable protagonists.  My conclusion is this; while not terrible there are a lot of reasons to dislike this book other than unlikable characters.

Aieee!  Start with what was good.  I actually liked the dominated nature of the religion on the land.  An ever present god in a consistent battle with demons.  Know what I really like?  The way the demons are often trying to persuade “sinners” to do things that most of us would consider the good thing, while the god is looking for death and destruction.  It gives us a vision that maybe the god is just the strongest voice of the moment, not the only power in the land.  I liked the early portion of Hekat’s story in which she is still on her rise to power.  Her decision to not be slave to anyone but the god and the extreme ends she is willing to take to ensure that it happens.

Aieee! But there are so many other things that didn’t work well.  I am not one that usually dwells on writing style but it was pretty bad in this case.  Look, I understand that the people in your made up land don’t speak English, and you are allowed to change some sentence structure to convey that, but constancy is important if that is your goal.  So when the world is using a pretty cool time systems based around fingers of the sun, meeting another tribe who uses the word “dusk” snaps me right out of your world and back into my own.  It is going to take more than run on sentences and the phrase “I think I did not” repeated on every page.  My belief is broken when a grammar lesson involves proper English in a land with its own language.
 
Aieee! This book had the most inconsistent time line imaginable.  The first two thirds flowed pretty well, and then we get time jumps between chapters.  Characters that shouldn’t matter suddenly became important.  A jumbled mess is made of the last fifth of the book, with one character introduced solely to be stuffed in the refrigerator a short time later.  A grim but realistically violent book is turned into a grind-house picture.  All the good will I was willing to give the book is burned out by the end.  A decent quick moving book with some forgivable quirks turned into a slog by the end.

Aieee!  According to my kindle the phrase “aieee” was present forty seven times in the book.  It sure felt like it was on every single page.

A four star beginning with a two star end.  Split the difference.  I won’t seek out the rest of the trilogy, but there is a possibility I would give the second book a try if it fell into my hands.

3 stars.  But just barely.  

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