Servant of a Dark God will be released October 13, 2009 from TOR.
I first met John Brown at a writers conference I attended for work. I'm always excited to meet debut epic fantasy authors, especially when they come so highly recommended by other authors whom I respect. David Farland had talked about John at lunch with me last year and had spoken so well of him and his writing that I was glad to finally meet him in person this February.
Before I dig into my review of his TOR debut novel, Servant of a Dark God, let me just share a couple of the endorsements given for his book from authors I enjoy:
"Thoroughly engrossing from the first page to the last! A writer with remarkable depth and power. I haven't seen a debut novel this good in years!" --David Farland
"A complex and intricate world, filled with all the permutations of human good and evil, as well as evil that goes beyond the human." --L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Now, here's the summary from the cover copy:
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"The launch of a towering new fantasy series introduces an elaborate new world, a strange and dark system of magic, and a cast of compelling characters and monsters. Young Talen lives in a world where the days of a person's life can be harvested, bought, and stolen. Only the great Divines, who rule every land, and the human soul-eaters, dark ones who steal from man and beat and become twisted by their polluted draws, know the secrets of this power. This land's Divine has gone missing and soul-eaters are found among Talen's people.
"The Clans muster a massive hunt, and Talen finds himself a target. Thinking his struggle is against both soul-eaters and their hunters, Talen actually has far larger problems. A being of awesome power has arisen, one whose diet consists of the days of man. Her Mothers once ranched human subjects like cattle. She has emerged to take back what is rightfully hers.
"Trapped in a web of lies and ancient secrets, Talen must struggle to identify his true enemy before the Mother finds the one whom she will transform into the lord of the human harvest."
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This is no simple epic. Brown has essentially written in three major plots: (1) the Dark Mother's resurgence in the world and her cunning plots, (2) Talen's family's struggle against the Divines and the oppression he and his face from those who aren't Koramite, and (3) the epic struggle of all those who are oppressed by the tyranny of the Glory and the Divines. The complexities of these three struggles overlap and complement one another in the story, with each group and entity relating to each other in different ways. For example, the Dark Mother is seeking out those who are fighting against the Divines to cull them, but she also plans to attack the Divines. In other words, groups that have mutual enemies are also fighting against themselves. These interacting conflicts I'm certain will generate quite an epic series (just as Robert Jordan's tri-fold conflicts have held readers of The Wheel of Time series spellbound--Dark One vs. Artur Hawkwing's returned armies vs. Rand and the gang).
While John Brown's story is intensely plot-driven, I would be amiss if I didn't point out his strong characters and their personalities. Talen comes across quickly as a bratty young man, but he's conflicted as he is faced with difficult truths and has to make hard decisions that help him take that next step to manhood (not unlike Robin Hobb's Fitz in Assassin's Apprentice). His female characters are mostly young, including Talen's sister, River, who--remarkably--resembles River of the Joss Whedon series Firefly in her fighting skills, if not in any other way. Perhaps the most fascinating character is Hunger, the creature going around sucking up people's souls. He is the "Servant" of a Dark God mentioned in the title, and I'd like to find one reader who doesn't end up sympathizing with this creature in some way.
Brown's world is very convincing, elaborate, and complicated, giving the sense of a medeival world filled with all sorts of creatures and peoples, with the story happening only on a very small portion of this world. There are no easy answers to life, and people of all sects and factions seem to be in abysmal condition because of the false deities who control their lives. I look forward to seeing what Brown does with the series over the long term, especially considering offshoot series based in this world. I wouldn't be surprised if this world became as permanent an institution as Brooks's Shannara or as Modesitt's Recluce, to name a few.
I'd highly recommend this debut novel for those who enjoy a good coming-of-age epic fantasy, and I hope to see many more great things from debut author John Brown.
Servant of a Dark God, by John Brown. TOR. September 15, 2009. 448 pp. $19.49.
John Brown's website