Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Paper Sword by Robert Priest

The Basics:
The Paper Sword by Robert Priest
Book One in the Spell Crossed series
Fantasy, YA
Published July 14, 2014
Source: Received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Why I picked up this book:

I loved the simplicity of the cover for a fantasy novel. I also really wanted to read something in the fantasy genre as it's been *too* long.


On the spell-crossed Phaer Isle, teenage Xemion dreams of being a great swordsman. When he finds a blade-shaped stick, he fashions it to look like a real sword. Knowing that the laws of their cruel Pathan conquerors would require a death sentence for possession of such an object, his friend Saheli demands he destroy it. He agrees, but insists on performing just one sword ceremony. When his mastery of the weapon, a skill long forgotten, is witnessed by a mysterious man named Vallaine, the two friends are invited to join a planned rebellion. At first they refuse, but when a sadistic official discovers their transgressions, they are forced to embark on a dangerous journey to the ruins of the ancient city of Ulde, where rebel forces are gathering.

Armed with only their wits and the painted sword, they face Thralls, Triplicants, dragons, rage-wraiths, and a host of other spell-crossed beings. As they approach the Great Kone, source of all spell-craft, Saheli's fear of magic and Xemion's attraction to it bind them in a crossed spell of their own — one that threatens to separate the two forever.

My thoughts:

The Paper Sword is a relatively straightforward journey tale, culminating in an event that should launch a series focused on rebellion, magic, friendship and loyalty. In fact, I found the story deceptively simple: two teens decide to chase their destiny by leaving home and traveling to the launching ground of a rebellion to reclaim the island on which they live from the invaders who took control of it fifty years ago.

There's more to it of course, as the book blurb implies, but the basic motion of the book is the journey.

Xemion fancies himself in love with Saheli, a girl who came into his life  only a few months ago. This much is made clear in the narration. Less clear is how Saheli feels about him - she's anxiously focused on her fears and missing memories. I wonder how this will play out - Xemion looking to the future while Saheli is mired in the past.

There's also Torgee and Tharfen, brother and sister, who have a complicated relationship with Xemion and Saheli. Friends, it seems, but each have romantic interest (or in the case of Tharfen, a possessiveness) towards Saheli and Xemion, respectively. They're swept up in the journey as well, for their own reasons.

These four teenagers all act like teenagers should, which is a credit to the novel. It would have been easy to call them teens and have them acting much older as they gallivant across the countryside. Instead, we're privy to their self-doubt, to the turmoil of their emotions. I look forward to watching them grow and mature as the series progresses.

One other major character in this first book is Rotan Smedenage. The rotund Rotan is as despicable a villain as any. Eager to please his Pathan overlords, Rotan is an examiner, looking for signs of magic use, and generally trampling on the spirits of the island's population. His initial presentation as someone who beats children for information and to punish them does nothing to endear the man to us, and it's really all downhill from there.

What irked me about Rotan's character is that he's described as being corpulently fat in an effort to mimick the stoutness of the Pathans, but he still is able to sprint briefly to catch children and to perform other small feats of strength. Generally, I thought his athleticism was at odds with his physical description, but fortunately this was only a small part of his contribution to the story.

I love the descriptive quality of the writing. This is partially a product of the genre - fantasy in the epic vein often features this sweeping language (thanks Tolkien?) - but I found the language particularly rich in The Paper Sword. There's a wealth of new terminology to learn as the book firmly establishes the setting of the story. Wisely, we're given it in pieces as the journey progresses, delving deeper into the history of the island and learning more about spellcraft and the Pathans as well.

I did find that at times the amount of information we were being handed bogged down the action. There's also an event at the end of the book that felt staged to me - perhaps a sign of disconnect because of information overload?

The Paper Sword is obviously the first in a planned series, and it ends on a cliffhanger note. I was a little disappointed that it wasn't a bit more self-contained in terms of the ending, but I did enjoy it.

Bottom line:

A good start to a series, The Paper Sword wraps an ambitious amount of backstory and world-building around a travel tale. This isn't a huge tome either, as some fantasy tends to be. I enjoyed reading this book and wanted more at the end.

4 stars
For fans of epic fantasy, YA, coming of age stories, journey tales, swords and magic.

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