Book Review: The Silver Sorceress by Alec Hutson

Format:  oversized paperback, first edition, 2018

Pages:  498

Reading Time:  about 12 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  Keilan searches for clues about his mother, while Demian tries to track down Alyanna, and Cho Lin sets off on an epic journey to slay demons and avenge her father.

 

Earlier this year I read Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen and I really liked it, and I had also interviewed the author, so I was looking forward to this sequel with great anticipation. So did The Silver Sorceress deliver? Did it disappoint? Both? Neither? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out. There will be a few spoilers, but I’ll try to identify them ahead of time. I couldn’t find any other non-Amazon or non-Goodreads reviews, except for one…

Adam Weller at Fantasy Book Review states: “The sequel expands the story’s reach even further, to the Eastern-influenced land of the southern Shan, to hidden islands in the far reaches of the Broken Sea, to the snow-covered mountains in the desolate Frostlands of the north. Thankfully – and I wish more authors did this – Hutson has provided a “catch up on the history of the world” foreword, as well as informing us where all the characters were left off in a “The Story So Far…” segment before the new book begins…I found Lin to be a compelling lead, as her heritage and values are drawn from Chinese history and mythology (with which Hutson has strong familiarity as a full-time resident of Shanghai.) I enjoyed seeing Lin experience culture shock and a curiosity of the “barbarian” principles in ways that felt authentic and respectful. Seeing how Lin, a noble of high station, interacts and adjusts to foreign customs was one of my favorite aspects to the story. She was forced to suppress some of her core values to progress further in her quest, and I greatly enjoyed rooting for her while she faced most of her challenges alone…The audience is transported to a new location with nearly every shift in POV, yet Hutson does a remarkable job of keeping all the plot threads captivating and easy to follow. We are given insight into the minds of some of the more heinous characters in the cast, which gives our villains welcome depth and dimension. Although we should be rooting against some of these horrific people, Hutson still manages to make me care when they are endangered. The one drawback I noticed, and this is subjective, is that the action scenes are bit fewer and further between than the first book. There are more threats of violence than actual fighting that occurs. But since the story moves so quickly, and we’re never in one location for too long, the book never feels sluggish or dull. The Silver Sorceress combines all the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy tale, including a well-developed cast, tantalizing mysteries, a broad range of conflicting cultures, and strong character arcs. Hutson’s engaging prose utilizes a wide vocabulary, clever analogies, and efficacious dialogue. This is a book of movement and discovery that reaches all four corners of the map. The increasing expansiveness of this world and its careful detailing of its culture and history has augmented this story in powerful and exciting ways.

 

The Silver Sorceress picks up immediately where the events of The Crimson Queen end. As Adam mentions above, the two forwards at the beginning of the book that contain “world history” and “the story so far” are invaluable to help recall the backstory and events of The Crimson Queen. There are three main viewpoint characters this time: Keilan, Demian, and the new character Cho Lin. A few other characters get 1-2 viewpoint chapters as well. Keilan searches for answers about his mother, Demian searches for Alyanna, and Cho Lin heads north to avenge her father and kill the Betrayers. Meanwhile, Senecus struggles, caught between dogma and his quest, and Nel struggles to avoid killing Senecus, who she blames for the death of someone close to her. Another character, Sella, had a brief appearance in The Crimson Queen but her role is expanded here. Although Sella does make a brief impact on events, her inclusion is extremely annoying and killed some of the enjoyment of the story for me. Fortunately, much of this book consists primarily of the viewpoint characters, Keilan, Cho Lin and Demian, on their separate travels through distant lands, which represent different settings than those of The Crimson Queen. This allows Hutson to reveal more of his world, its peoples, and much more of the world’s history. But it also presents a problem.

In an interview at Fantasy Book Critic, Hutson says this about The Silver Sorceress: “It was also important to me that I have some payoffs in this story – there were plenty of mysteries introduced in Queen, and I wanted the readers to feel like some of them were explored in this book. I don’t like it when writers cram all the reveals into the final third of the last book – or drop some of the mysteries that they’ve introduced all together. That said, it is a middle book in a trilogy. I’m quite happy with it, but I am worried that readers will reach the end and feel like it doesn’t have the arc resolution that The Crimson Queen had, which was a bit more self contained. By the last chapter the pieces are all set up for the final book – and I’m excited about what I have planned – but perhaps it’s not quite as satisfying a resolution as the first. We’ll see.

Hutson is right to worry, but not necessarily about the arc resolution…I actually thought that was fine, and the book ends with a couple of cliffhangers that have me anticipating what will happen next, and wondering if he can wrap this arc up in one more volume…right now it seems bigger than a trilogy. The true problem that I hinted at above (and Adam points out as well) is this: throughout the book, the characters travel around, and we learn about cultures, geography and history, but there isn’t really much action. There are a few sequences where conflict occurs, and those are handled quite well. I’m not saying that I was bored, or that all this traveling was terrible – I enjoyed the foray into Hutson’s worldbuilding, as well as the unraveling of the mystery that centers around Keiran’s mother. The pacing is great, and the pages do seem to fly by quickly. But if you are looking for action, there isn’t really a lot, which I found translated to very little tension in the book, with a couple of exceptions, until the end.

This paragraph has a few spoilers, so you may want to skip to the next one before reading further. Hutson leaves a few questions unanswered that I suspect may not be answered in the next book. If this is true, it leaves a few holes in the plot. For instance, Cho Lin travels on a boat to the Crimson Queen’s city. Meanwhile, a demon appears in Lyr, arriving off of a similar boat. Why did the demon leave the boat and enter Lyr? Were Cho Lin and the demon on the same boat, or were there two different boats? Why doesn’t Cho Lin’s magical sword detect this demon, instead leading her to Jan (who is not a demon)? If the black vizier is aligned with the Genthyaki, why did he allow Alyanna get purified in Ama’s light? Why was she being kept alive? So many questions I have!

In final 60+ pages, Hutson does manage to increase the tension. In fact, Cho Lin’s POV in the mountain kingdom is pretty creepy and riveting. As Adam mentions above, Cho Lin’s character is fascinating, and I wish she had more page time. Jan’s quest provides an “A-ha!” moment..at first I was confused about why he went to the mountains, and then it all begins to make sense as the pieces slide into place. And Alyanna’s character…how Hutson can make you feel sorry for a character that is so unlikable is a testament to his writing skill. There are some excellent plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and the cliffhanger ending is a doozy.

In conclusion, The Silver Sorceress is an enjoyable read. It’s not quite at the same level of The Crimson Queen, and suffers a little from “middle book syndrome”, but it is still a page-turner. Despite some plot holes and a lack of action sequences that effectively rob the story of some tension, it’s a compelling tale with great characters and settings, and it will definitely win some Hippogriff Awards this year. I will be purchasing book three of The Raveling upon release, because I can’t wait to see what more Hutson has in store.

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