The Covenant Rising (Stan Nicholls, Dreamtime #1)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Covenant Rising is a swords-and-sorcery dystopian adventure novel. This is the first in a series, and while it isn’t constantly apparent, there is clearly a lot of groundwork being laid throughout the course of the book. The characters are enjoyable. I’m not sure if they are the most unique, but they are entertaining enough and well written. The setting is fairly standard swords-and-sorcery with an overlay of political dystopia. It’s interesting to see things that are familiar fantasy conventions being employed by a magical police state. There are a few too many prospective characters for my tastes, and the author has an annoying habit of cramming all the descriptions of places into the first two paragraphs every time the perspective changes, but overall there isn’t too much to complain about. This book really excels in the action sequences. They are really well described and feel very dynamic. I would recommend this book if you like lots of action and fighting, but maybe not so much if you just like to luxuriate in the fantastical and the strange, as much of what is in the book will be familiar to fantasy fans even though it is repurposed here.

Greater Detail:
Reeth Caldason is an enigmatic wanderer, hunted by an oppressive government, looking for a cure to a mysterious curse. It looks like all hope is lost until he encounters a member of the resistance who promises to put Reeth in contact with their formidable sorcerers. To get his cure, Reeth must band together with a diverse band of misfits to obtain a magical artifact which may have clues to his mysterious condition.

The conclusion is also a bit of a letdown; it’s not bad, and it doesn’t leave major things unresolved or anything, but it just doesn’t feel like the most organic of places to stop, more like the author found it the only convenient place to take a break. I get the impression that this and some other issues stem from the author not plotting the book strictly enough at the start and then not editing enough once it was finished. There’s no part that really drags or that you can point to and say is bad, but there’s just too much of it. The frequent perspective changes hint at this too. There are a few characters you only see once or twice, when the author probably should have considered whether he really needed to convey that information in that way or even if it was really essential to the story at all. At four hundred plus pages, this is a good book; I suspect at two hundred fifty pages this would have been a great book.

I really can’t overemphasize how good the parts that work are. The action in particular was among the best I’ve seen in fantasy. I was surprised how much I wanted sword fights to break out at every opportunity just because the action is so well described and exciting. If you like action, you will really be doing yourself a service by picking this book up. There are sword fights on runaway wagons, ambushes, and sudden reversals.

I’m not sure if it was the intention, but everything that goes right with the book does center on the violent aspects. The characters wouldn’t be all that interesting on their own, but when they are potential candidates for a bloody sword fight at any time they become riveting. Likewise, the setting isn’t particularly ground breakingly imaginative swords-and-sorcery fare, but when you are looking at everything through the lens of potential places to swordfight, it becomes captivating. This is definitely the only book I’ve read where my first reaction to reading about a flying castle was to think, “Oh man, I hope they have a swordfight on that.”

Comparisons to Other Authors:
What with the protagonist’s struggle against an oppressive government and lots of action this reminded me of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, starting with Mistborn: The Final Empire. The main departures are that Mistborn was a bit more imaginative, with it’s unique metal based magic system, and the fights there tended to rely more on magical powers, whereas in The Covenant Rising, there is mostly just people stabbing each other.

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