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313 of 328 people found the following review helpful
on July 26, 2011
At first, I was somewhat worried about reading this novel; the synopsis is pretty brief, and many of the other reviews at the time (shortly after publication) were short, "this is the only review I've written" types that I always assume are shills. At less than a buck though, I was willing to take a risk, and was pleasantly surprised. Manning's produced a novel that is an example of good, traditional fantasy. The writing is consistently fun and vivid, the pacing quick while still filling in the necessary detail, the dialogue scans well, and you can both believe in and empathize with the characters. The plot is also pretty decent; Mordecai, the protagonist, is the sole survivor of line of mages and nobles killed by assassins. Eventually his own magical powers develop, and over the period of a couple weeks he gets up to deeds of daring-do, somewhat predictably saving himself, friends and family in the process. While there isn't anything particularly inspired or new in Manning's magical system, plot, or worldbuilding, this is as good as most traditionally published fantasy novels and is well edited. Overall, a very solid effort, and well worth the price. I'd recommend this book to fantasy readers in general, and will read the sequel.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2011
First off, I do enjoy the overall plot of the book. I find the characters generally likable and strong. Manning definitely has talent in the story department. However, this book's downfall is the way in which he writes. Quite often the characters will use terms and phrases appropriate for the time period, but every once in a while a modern phrase comes along such as "out of whack" which really shatters the illusion for me.

I felt like the author couldn't decide what kind of period the dialogue should take place in. Another problem I have with the book is the fact that the book is written in first person for the main character, but when it switches to another scene in which the main character is not present, it transitions into third person. Towards the end of the book there is hardly any segue between the two. One paragraph you'll be reading from third person and in the immediate next paragraph it's first person again.

Another problem I had was with the main character. He will often offer commentary on his own dialogue in his head, usually in a self-deprecating manner. Much like the Dresden series. However, he does it far too often. Nearly every time someone catches him off guard with a question and he answers with anything less than a witticism, he ironically muses about how intelligent/clever/good with words he is. It's not a problem in itself, but the frequency with which it occurs feels a little lazy.

Lastly, the book feels too rushed in some areas. (Minor spoilers) for instance, there is a romantic connection between two characters that develops entirely too quickly. It moves from friendship to a marriage proposal all within a single chapter. It was almost like watching a movie on fast forward. There was very little time to establish a conceivable relationship between the two of them before it explodes into something like marriage. There are a few other head-scratching moments, but I think the above illustrates my point.

With all that said, I definitely think this guy has talent. I quite enjoyed the story and the humor, I just feel that the writing could be more refined.
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167 of 203 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2011
(NOTE: This review has been edited - I've marked the major edit, and I've fixed a couple of "idiot errors")
Mr. Manning has a very solid instinct about how to tell a story. Good narrative drive to draw the reader forward. I'm very pleased that the plot is human sized - it isn't about the destruction of the universe, fated destiny etc. It is about a morally weak individual and those who oppose him. I find that human scale to be somewhat rare in fantasy literature. I also like the way that Manning unveils the story; the details he lays out early and those which he saves for later.

The novel has some weak spots; (EDIT: Originally I said I wouldn't pay full price for this. The next three books I purchased cost more than this book and weren't as good. I probably still wouldn't pay hardback prices for Mageborn, but I would probably pay more for this book than I did.)
* The romance and sex plots depict a pretty contemptible image of manhood and masculinity. I understand that sometimes men are bad. But I shouldn't walk away from a novel embarrassed to be a man. The villain is a rapist. Penelope's seduction technique is effectively rape. There are counterexamples. Count DiCameron and his wife or Duke Lancaster and his wife. They're in the background and the foreground characters made me feel uncomfortable. Worst of all, the sex, rape and romance didn't contribute to the story. It diminished the entertainment value. I may be unduly harsh; I just know that the negative impressions of gender and sexuality had a stronger impression on me than the good impressions.
* The evil character is a one dimensional proxy for external forces of evil; quite sad, because he had serious potential to be a sympathetic villain. If he were given even a paragraph of real motivation, or demonstrated to occasionally make moral choices this book would have been immeasurably better.
* The good characters were, by and large, equally two dimensional. They act because they are good. You can predict their actions in any circumstance. One in particular (Lady Hightower) was so full of goodness and virtue that I wanted to join with the evil characters and fling her from the battlements. If the world contains people who are that virtuous, that wise, who are so consistently able to say and do the right things in every situation, then by comparison I'm much closer to the evil folks in the world. She had serious potential to be my favorite character. Her first appearance reminded me of an aunt in a Georgette Heyer novel. By the middle of the book she had descended to the level of Mary Jane Slushpile and I wanted to skip any scene in which she occurred. Virtue isn't virtuous if it is free, and Lady Hightower simply doesn't pay a price for virtue.

I could go on - there are many character who have the potential to rise above themselves, but none of them did. None of them ever really make a moral choice (I could argue that perhaps Penelope did, but by the time she made that choice, I'd ceased to have any sympathy for her, and I need to feel some sympathy in order to care about a character's moral choices). I think that potential is one of the things that kept me reading the book.

One other flaw that deserves mention. The book contains some writing from Marcus the Heretic, who points out the relative frequency of Mages, Seers, Stoics and Channellers. If I recall two of those are listed as occurring not more than one in several thousand. It staggers the imagination and the suspension of disbelief that all of those types are present in the novel, and all are aligned on the side of goodness.

The strongest characters in the book are those on the periphery; my favorite is Duke Lancaster. He is still too virtuous to be believable, but there are some reasons why he behaves the way he does. He's also the only character who leaves me with the impression that he is aware of the price of virtue.

The setting is quite well done. I like the magic system, and I like the way it is I kept waiting for Manning to trip up and make an error in the setting. The only weak points in the setting (the disappointingly modern lack of any class distinction or conflict) were mostly covered over by something that isn't obvious to the reader at the beginning of the book. I think that Manning does a good job of making the setting important to the plot. I cared about the conflict between good and evil because of the effect it would have on the world.

Given all the criticism I cite above, I find it rather surprising that I'm eager for a sequel. Manning has some of the hard stuff down. I hope Manning works in a writing group and gets some solid critique. Or reads writing advice from Jim Butcher or Orson Scott Card - both of whom know how to demonstrate that the protagonist's choices have consequences.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2011
Let me first say that I'm giving this book two stars only because I want to encourage what could be a promising new fantasy author. There is some creativity here, but a good deal of it is cribbed from other fantasy epics and what's new doesn't seem to get much attention.

I wouldn't have rated this book at all as I tend to agree with the "if you don't have anything nice to say..." axiom, but I really feel that the 4 star average this book has managed seems to be very misleading.

First the positive - the author obviously has a passion for fantasy, and you can tell he's really attempting to flesh out the magic "mechanics" in a creative way with the blurbs at the beginning of each chapter. It's a nice touch, but by removing it from the story as exposition, it feels somewhat detached and clinical. In the body of the novel, magic is thrown about so effortlessly that it seems almost superfluous to have the system defined at all. I also felt that his portrayal of the main character as someone who isn't a paragon of manliness (as in so much other epic fantasy) was fresh and a welcome change.

The negative - I won't get into all I found problematic about the novel, but the writer badly needs a professional editor. I'm not much of a writer, but even within the first chapter I noticed many gross errors. Particularly egregious throughout is his misuse of punctuation - elements even as basic as commas aren't used correctly.

The story starts off somewhat whimsical with the protagonist discovering his burgeoning powers, but unfortunately this period of the book feels like it stretches on too long. Little definition is given to a guiding story "arc" until much later in the book, giving the book a feeling of aimlessness. The antagonist is also flawed - he appears to have almost no "human" side at all, and though characters throughout the story are continually given opportunities to thwart him - a known villain - they never take them. No credible excuse for why these attempts aren't made are even given.

Most troubling of all, though, is the portrayal of character personalities in this book. The lead female, and love interest for the protagonist, is particularly grating. Her character is abusive, ignorant, entitled, and has absolutely no respect for station or propriety in the society the author has defined. I found myself rolling my eyes and tempted to close the book prematurely several times during sequences involving her. Without spoiling anything, the main character saves her from the antagonist's abusiveness while she is unconscious. Of course, through some ridiculous scenario straight out of a sitcom, the note he leaves her detailing his request to speak with her to explain what happened (that her honor has been protected), slips "under the bed" or something similar. From then on, every time he attempts to approach her to reassure her and simply talk, she flies into a rage, upset beyond all hope of being calmed. Worse, the other characters in the book just perpetuate this ridiculousness, and he seemingly understands. When the situation is finally made clear, she offers not a single word of apology. This is merely one example of the character interactions in the book that are completely unbelievable.

Overall, I could definitely detect that the writing was improving as I read through the book, and I feel that with practice, hard work, and a professional editor, this author could be one to look for in the days to come. Until that day comes though, I don't know that I'd pay more than the $1 this one cost for any of the follow-ups though.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2011
The most disappointing thing about this book is that it had the potential to be a really fantastic book. The plot in the book is fairly interesting, but the reader is rushed through it very quickly. We are told things and expected to believe in them instead of having these things developed or even explained. We go from having Mordecai suddenly developing magical powers to him being able to save a castle in a very short period of time. Even though one of the prologues by Marcus the Heretic states that those with power often destroy themselves, Mordecai not only has an inordinate amount of power, but can also teach himself and create new uses for the power (his flashbangs) with no help but a book. He apparently has enough control and mastery of his power that he can also heal himself, which, again, Marcus the Heretic states is very difficult and done by very few. These things might be believable had we been given enough time to see Mordecai actually have to struggle to learn these things, but instead we are expected to believe that he is just *that* good.

We also have no back story where it would have helped create a wonderful world as well as give the characters depth. The biggest failure in this point is Devon. He is just there as this evil person, who apparently just happened to go into league with the evil god that killed Mordecai's family. There is no explanation for him or his powers. There's also no explanation for how he came to come in league with this evil god. There's just no explanation at all, which is another problem with the book:

The plot also relies heavily on coincidence and the motivations that drive a character's actions are inconsistent at best and left utterly unexplained at worst. Penny's by far the worst in the book when it comes to being portrayed inconsistently (though Devon suffers from this as well to a lesser degree). For the first part of the book, she apparently can't keep anything to herself. She breaks down and tells Lady Rose everything about Devon with very little provocation, and then, later, about her first vision. Lady Rose believes her and helps her with both of these things even when she did not know Penny at all. Then, suddenly, at the end of the book, Penny unexpectedly thinks that no one will believe her when she has another vision despite the fact that a complete stranger believed and helped her shortly before. Worse, she's also gotten together with Mordecai at this point, and she completely ignores the fact that he would certainly believe her given that he's a mage and in love with her- not to mention that the vision in question answers who was responsible for his family's death!

The character development is lacking. The characters are very one-sided and all very similar to each other. They also all know each other and have since childhood, so their relationships have no development. Even the few relationships that are developed happen quickly with no difficulties.

Sadly, the most interesting parts to me where the small excepts at the beginning of each chapter from Marcus the Heretic. I actually ended up skimming through the last 20% of the book, because the development drastically went downhill and I couldn't suspend my disbelief long enough to put aside the flaws in the book any longer.

On top of all that, the technical aspects of the writing were also lacking. The book is filled with run on sentences where commas were used instead of semi-colons or even plain old periods. The dialogue tags were also punctuated incorrectly, and sentences which didn't relate to the dialogue were treated as dialogue tags- sometimes even the sentence in question was about a person who was not speaking the dialogue it was attached to.

Given all of this, it felt like the book was the first draft of a story, and it needed to be given several more rewrites, flushed out, and edited properly before it ever should have been published. As I said to begin with, had it gotten that extra attention, it could have been a magnificent book. Instead it was just a sad waste of time.
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175 of 230 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2011
I picked up this book based on a couple of the reviews that indicated that this was a solid fantasy novel. Instead, this book is an example of the downside of owning a Kindle -- I couldn't throw the horrid novel across the room and hearing a pleasing thump against the far wall.

This is like a bad mashup between Jordan and Martin. Trite, generic medieval fantasy. The hero, like Moses in the rushes, was hidden by his mother so the bad guys wouldn't find him, then grows up in an apparently generic medieval setting where the local Duke allows his son to play with the hero (who was found and raised by wolves, wait, I mean the blacksmith and his wife), everyone is very egalitarian, and although the hero has a very unusual name (he was born about 20 miles away), nearly everyone else has a "normal" American name like James or Penny or Laura. And when the hero discovers he can work magic -- he, amazingly enough, learns everything right the first time and it doesn't "cost" him anything (he doesn't get tired or hungry or have to sell his soul). Did I mention that this blacksmith's son figures out how to sword fight on the fly while battling for his life against a young nobleman who's trained for years?

I won't go into the plot holes big enough to drive a truck through, it will just make me more sad than I already am about spending real money on this book.

Really, if you want to read fantasy -- find an author that does their research on world building, politics, how to fight with a sword, what you can and can't do with broken ribs, and has a magical system that is more complex than "you, evil; me, good".
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63 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2011
This book is the only one I will ever read from this author. While the story had the potential for a decent plot, it was horribly written.

- There was a terrible generic setting of a medieval kingdom;

- The characters were very one dimensional in that they had only one purpose and that was to help their friend "Morty";

- Dialogue seemed forced and awkward;

- There was almost always redundancy with description after a line of dialogue;

- There was no antagonist (no one that really stood in the way of Morty's goals), just a villain who should have been able to wipe the floor with the "hero";

- The ease and success of the hero in learning and mastering magic was ridiculous--he was never challenged, he excelled at nearly everything, and the climax was just more of the same--in other words, the hero's journey in this story was mostly skipped;

- The love story was stupid, he had not seen penny in years prior to seeing her again in this book, and he asks her to marry him in about a day or couple of days--there was no build-up in their romance.

A major issue, structurally, was that the story kept switching weirdly between first person narrative and third person narrative, and between present and past, often in the same chapter and/or paragraph.

I don't know how this book was published, but I imagine the publishing company helps people self publish because no self respecting editor could possibly let this book be released as it is currently written. And if it was edited, the editor should be fired.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2014
This book has, so far, about 655 people who have read it. And it has an average of 4 stars rating. So, like a lemming I followed the horde -- and fell head long into utter disappointment.
How in heaven's name did this book get rave reviews from 200-plus people? It is rather…juvenile, in almost every aspect. Juvenile protagonists, juvenile dialogue, juvenile style of writing. Aarggh!!! I've endured it to page 85, but I think I've suffered enough. Unfortunately, I bought book 2 along with book 1. Aaarrggh!!!

I have drunk my fill of creatively imaginative AND exceptionally well-written ( i.e. the conveyance of ideas, or the descriptions of character interactions, experiences, and of the narrative's World, are done with intelligent, even captivating, prose) works such as those by Kathryn Kurtz, Robin Hobb, George RR Martin, Anthony Ryan, Joe Abercrombie, et al. These are masterful creators of fantasy fiction, who are ALSO skilled writers. Alas, their kind are few. Very few!
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25 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2011
This is not a horrible novella in strictly story terms; if you slog all the way through you find a fairly typical fantasy pulp of the "I read a superhero comic and replaced spandex with sequined robes and fists of steel with swords" variety. Not remarkable in that sense, I suppose, and if that were it's only issue it would be fine.

What kills it isn't that, nor is it the rather blatant ignorance of relevant fantasy set-pieces (most notably blacksmithing and swordplay), though. If you're even considering buying this, you can deal with that kind of stuff easily enough. The reason that most readers won't make it more than two or three pages in is that the author simply cannot write. And I don't mean this in the "weak plot, loses track of characters" sense, I mean that the poor fellow seems to have missed the grammar-school units that are literally about _grammar_. You can get through the prologue thinking that it was just tacked on in a hurry to fill gaps in the plot, but then you'll hit chapter 1 and are treated to character introductions phrased as "my mother, [generic fantasy name] is her name, chided him...". Come on, sir, that sentence is not even remotely grammatically correct. Throw us a bloody bone here, man.

I'm seeing a lot of five-star reviews up here... I can only assume that this is because the majority of people (aside from myself) that were dumb enough to pay money to read this either already have a copy of the manuscript (assumably in green crayon) attached to the fridge with a magnet and are only making the purchase to encourage the author. To these people I say: quit it. Trying to build your toddler's self-confidence is very nice, but in this case your efforts will only bring pain into the world, like encouraging a quadruple amputee to try to enlist in the USMC. Some dreams should never be realized.

That said, two stars instead of one because it's only a waste of a buck and you've been warned.

P.S. I lied about the plot being a generic fantasy plot. It's a generic _fan fiction_ plot, complete with a blatant Mary-Sue protagonist who 'humbly' brags about possessing virtues of which there is no evidence ever presented. By the third chapter I was expecting Patrick Stewart to fall to his rugged charms at any moment and join him in a four-way with Leonard Nemoy and Chewbacca. I was trying to be politic about this earlier, but as I type I find the observation that I've seen deeper plots in 4chan /b/ posts to be rather overwhelming.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2011
I bought this book because of its overwhelmingly positive ratings, and I must say I was greatly disappointed. The only good thing I can say about the book is that the storyline was intriguing.
First of all, the author has a lot of simple errors in sentence structure that could easily have been corrected before publishing. Most books have such errors, but these blatant enough to be distracting through the reading (i.e. a description that states that the blood "shone blackly...").
Second, and much more importantly, the author starts the book (if you don't include the prologue) in first person. After that he jumps continually between first and third person perspective, often without even so much as a new chapter. The overall effect is to make the reader feel out of step with the book as though they were looking at disjointed facts slung together haphazardly. Point of view is there for a reason.
Third, a lot of things seemed almost unbelievable in the storyline. The "romance" particularly took rather sudden and unbelievable turns. *SPOILER ALERT* The incidents in which the lead and his friends had opportunities to kill the antagonist never provided a satisfying explanation as to why the deed could not be done. Every time they are stopped from killing a man who seems universally viewed as a monster by some sense of propriety. If all four knew the man for who he was, nobody would have needed to know about any of the deaths. It could easily have been blamed on an assassin or, in some cases, made to look like an accident, and nobody would have been the wiser. The small insights into the lead's thoughts also gave the impression of an egotist.
I gave this book two stars only because I believe that, if better developed, this book could have been a good read. The kernel of a good story is there, but polishing and refining are important steps in publishing a book for a reason, and more should have been done in this instance.
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