My rating: 2 of 5 stars
What this book is about:
When the Book of Lost Souls is stolen, the Gods have naught but take matters into their own hands – meddling, once again, with the mortal realm. Mayot Mecada has come to the possession of the sacred artifact and following the orders of the Emperor of Erin Elal, a former Guardian, an assassin, a young and arrogant mage and a former military commander are sent in search of it. But the four companions are not the only ones looking to recover the tome. The high priestess of the Spider, Romany, has been unpleasantly thrown into the game by her Goddess required to do what she does best; manipulating the players. Meanwhile, the kingdom of Galitia is in crisis. The King is sick and dying and Ebon, a young man tortured by the spirits in his head threatening his sanity, is obliged to take his father’s place. And somewhere in this peculiar land, a resourceful young woman is in a long search for answers from the source of all this evil, Shroud, the Lord of the Dead himself.
What seems to begin as a familiar quest story of companions seeking an ancient Book of immeasurable power in the equally common pattern of complete strangers from different faces of life, come together at the end to converge into an explosive finale, turns out a rather disappointing result. When the Heavens Fall is Marc Turner’s debut novel and comprises the first part of the Chronicles of the Exile series. In a lengthy sequence of short segments following the four protagonists, Marc Turner choses to rapidly alternate between points of view from a third person perspective to narrate a story beginning from four different points in the map and ending in a converging place of power. While reading When the Heavens Fall, I couldn’t help but find certain references like character and writing style similarities to Steven Erikson’s Malazan books or a character that could have easily been imagined from X-Men or the whole story idea with strong indications of the Raymond E. Feist school of fantasy. Yet, what starts as a fun and promising story sadly ends in a repetitive, meaningless and frustrating series of rapidly introduced scenes that come to a finale.
As their powers collided, the candles in the room were extinguished. The fire in the grate flickered and died, plunging the room into darkness.
When the Heavens Fall is a debut novel and reads as one. While many aspects of the storytelling are not well executed, the book as a whole manages to stand decently and more, show that there is actually a lot of potential here. During this reading experience, you get a sense of the author’s attempts at humour which sometimes works well and others… not so much. In addition to the somewhat successful and occasional use of humour, it is noteworthy that the language used by Marc Turner in his paragraphs is – mostly – fitting to the style I would expect from a fantasy novel. In these two regards, I can see how Marc Turner has true potential as an author after gaining some writing experience in his genre. Despite the combination of the decent humour and the appropriate writing style, the author’s narration was faulty in many respects. It is over-explaining which to a non-novice fantasy reader feels too simplistic as it doesn’t challenge you to think of the plot and critically proceed with your reading. It is just too easy, which in my case worked as a disadvantage, but this book could be a great reference for people who are new to the fantasy genre. I do not like to be told why things happened and I do not appreciate when a character explains what went down to make sure I’m following; you write your book in an intelligent and cohesive manner and I’m sure I will be able to figure out everything you are trying to convey to me. Yet another bad choice was the use of short pieces from various point of views in sequence to provide the unravelling of the plot. On Steven Erikson’s exemplar, he manages to pull it off with such a success that sends waves of awe to his reader. Marc Turner’s scattered sequential pieces did not manage to impress and rather tremendously hindered his end result in terms of character development and world-building. There is this point in the beginning of every story when you start to warm up to the characters and begin to have a sense of the imaginary, fantastical world. In When the Heavens Fall, you are left with an utterly incomplete relationship with the protagonists and a vague concept of the setting.
“Why, it is all around you. Can you not sense it? A tremor in the air, a snatch of sound – they are like threads of a tapestry still in the weaving. Some fragments are as young as the words we speak, others as old as time itself.”
Now, when it comes to the plot, this book once again deceives the reader with a promising start of a quest and a cast of characters that seem to have deep desires and crucial objectives that each will strive to achieve in the span of 545 pages. The plot is expanded by initially introducing a significant other for each protagonist – not necessarily a lover – who seems to be destined to play an imperative role in their decision-making and story progression. At least, that is what seems to have been the author’s intention. The plot itself is not only too simplistic but also very poorly executed. Four people from different faces of life converge into a forest in search of a book that is in the possession of one mortal who’s gaining power the more he keeps the tome under his will. The journey of the protagonists to the forest has an interesting beginning but soon fades to dullness as the characters arrive at the forrest too fast. The story goes on from there to fall into a repetitive swirl of fighting, searching, being attacked and yet more fighting. All to no avail as we gain neither a deeper sense of the place nor build a stronger relationship with the characters. Moreover, the book is using many ideas from Steven Erikson’s magic system but fails miserably in giving us an idea of how the powers actually work. Instead, Marc Turner choses to explain to the reader why a certain character will lose a battle or what another character has to do to win against another more powerful source of magic. We have to be told these things because they are not clear. The magic system is way too chaotic and not in the good – Malazan – way. To make matters worse, all the ties that the author has woven between the characters in the beginning are never reinforced. Basically what we get is something like this: Beginning of the book – character X is very attached to character Y. Middle of the book – we are reminded once that character X is very attached to character Y. End of the book – character Y suddenly matters. Well, too bad, because by then I don’t care! It’s one of those parts in the novel where you just have to take the author’s word for it because he never actually manages to create the sense of attachment and love and impact that a person has on one of the protagonists. It’s just overall a very mediocre outcome of a novel with an expectantly predictable ending.
A small body was partly buried beneath the rubble, and dark shapes swarmed over and around it, drifting in and out of the shadows. Rats. And it looked like the Guardian had disturbed their feeding.
The final nail to the coffin were the dry characters that failed to grow and become someone I care about while I’m striding in their wake through pages and pages of dialogues that didn’t add to their portrayal and paragraphs that failed to draw a picture but managed to take much-needed space for more important sentences that were simply not there. Parolla was the only character that I was instantly drawn to only to feel more and more distanced from her. The rest of the characters were drawn with a 2H pencil into harsh, thick paper. When one opens the novel there are three pages of the Dramatis Personae followed by a map. Both of these elements were underused in the story and I honestly believe could have easily been omitted.
The reason for the dome’s longevity was readily apparent in the whiff of decaying sorcery that bled from its walls. Not death-magic this time, but…something else. The power appeared to have seeped out into the rest of Estapharriol, for the buildings surrounding the dome were more intact than the ones on the outskirts of the city.
Overall, although this novel could be considered an easy and sufficient introduction into the fantasy genre, to me it was just a big disappointment saved by the evident potential it manages to show. The hardcover is gorgeous and holding the book itself might have been a pleasure if not for the unsatisfactory, meagre narration. I’m quite apprehensive in picking the second book in the series up.
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BookDepository: When the Heavens Fall