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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2015
TL; DR version: While the writing is superb (aside from some minor editorial mistakes), and the universe that McPhail created is fascinating in many ways, the plot itself is full of tedious repetition mixed with moments of chaotic confusion that are all solved with Deus Ex Machina. The plot is predictable despite there being no clear "villain," but arduously drawn out nevertheless.

While I won't go into detail to avoid spoilers, I found that, as with her first book, the plot was telegraphed from miles away, but took ages to get there. Further, the plot was incredibly repetitive. Somebody gets captured (for the second or third time), somebody else comes in and rescues them with a god's assistance. Rinse and Repeat, ad nauseam. The Deus Ex Machina aspect is even more powerful in this book than the first one. A god steps in here. A person happens to have the exact thing they need at the exact time they need it. The book depicted the "good guys" as having planned everything out already, but the "bad guys" seem to always be in the lucky place at the lucky time to really screw up the plan. Except then you find out that, oh wait, that's what the MAIN good guy (the Fifth Vestal, that is), was expecting to teach the necessary lesson. And he couldn't tell anyone about it because... reasons. In most cases the confusing explanation of the all-important "Balance" is given. Even the characters comment on how "convenient" this explanation is. It certainly feels like the author railroads the plot to where she wants it, and to explain that, she just says, "Oh it's because of Balance," and expects us to accept that.

As with the idea of Balance, the whole plot is full of platitudes and heavy-handed philosophy, that's as confusing to the reader as it is to many of the characters. Most of this is in relation to this universe's concept of magic, called "Patterning." Patterning is an interesting concept and, in general, one of the things I found interesting about the world. But, as with the plot and the Balance, it seems to be repetition where a character does the same thing over and over and over again, failing, but then succeeding when it's convenient to move the plot along, but it's never clear what happened that's different. Another philosophy that seems to come up a lot is this feeling of the "wonder of innocence," and "naivete" in the face of extreme evil, and then CHANGING the evil so you realize, maybe the bad guy's not so evil after all, and is really just naive in their own way.

There are a lot of "god-like" characters, who seem to know everything and have planned for everything, etc. They're reported to be "as close a touch to divinity as I've seen," but we're mostly TOLD these things, and never SHOWN why this is true. We're just kind of supposed to accept it. Further, we're told how EVIL the bad guys are, and often see them doing quite a lot of evil, but then they "make up for it" but being nice to a small boy, or granting some small favor. Again, though, we're TOLD how various characters are "drawn" to the bad guys, and want to like them despite knowing their evil nature, but this is never convincingly shown. The reader never really sees how the character could be so drawn, we never SEE the charming side of evil, we're only told that it's charming.

While I'm mentioning the villain, it's really unclear WHO the villain is. We're told that the good guys have been planning something for at least 300 years, and we get the impression that this is all some slow build up to a final confrontation, but it's not clear what that confrontation IS. At the end of the first book, we're led to believe it's the Malorin'athgul, but during the course of this book (And here there might be a small spoiler), the author seems to try to show us that they're really just misunderstood, and are not really intentionally "killing" the world: a) their simple existence in this universe is slowly killing it, and b) the actions that they DO take towards killing the world come from either a dark compulsion of "their nature" or a misguided philosophy that "the purpose of life is to die."

Meanwhile, the "human" bad guys that are introduced are much more menacing and evil than the Malorin'athgul, if not as powerful. It also seems like we're constantly being introduced to a new human villain who is more evil/corrupted than the last, and is unfailingly one of the "50 Companions." And while I'm on the 50 Companions, the way people in this book react to "immortals" is highly confusing. Some times they're in awe of them and treat them like minor deities themselves, other times they react in the same way you or I might react towards movie stars or political celebrities, but the most confusing is when they just order them around or treat them like any other vassal. And even MORE confusing is that the immortal person LETS them. Like, here's a guy that is literally older than your entire kingdom, and you're just gonna' ignore him or order him around or something? It's very odd. But there's a lot of the "politics" of the universe that, as with much else, you're just expected to accept because the author told you that's the way it is.

I know this series has been compared often to the Wheel of Time series. To make the same comparison myself, I would say that it feels like McPhail is trying to capture the same sense of epic, world-sweeping plot that Jordan had, and while she captures some of the urgency there, her plot is even less-clear and more repetitive than Jordan's. While, her plot is in some ways more confusing than Jordan's, in other ways it's telegraphed far, far more in advance than ever Jordan did, and perhaps because of this, it feels arduously drawn out.

Despite all of this, her style of writing is superb. There were a thousand analogies or metaphors that I thought were perfect. She is very able to describe her character's feelings and give them depth (well, mostly). Nevertheless, I don't feel that her style is enough for me to get over the often boring and predictable plot, so I doubt I will buy the third book or continue in the series, but I could understand if you do.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2012
One problem with a lot of fantasy is that the author starts too many threads and fails to interweave them into a coherent whole--resulting in long sections where you're reading from one person's perspective and you really wish you were listening to someone else. This does NOT happen with Melissa McPhail. I'm so impressed by her skill to balance each of the tales in book, to be able to play the different parts off of each other to greater effect.

(i) I love the bad guys in this book! The easy way to make bad guys more interesting is simply to make them more relatable e.g. a sob story about how they turned out the way they are. But this isn't what McPhail does! She makes us appreciate the alienness of the enemy's philosophy. These philosophies are not set out as strawmen but are critically analyzed. We really are forced to question comfortable morals (I think my favorite philosophical point from the book was whether or not "right" depended on the time point at which we chose to assess the effect of our actions). Pelas and Isak have become two of my favorite characters.

(ii) The plot and pacing are extremely well executed. We continue to get some quite original recastings of familiar storylines, my favorite being Kjieran's.

(iii) Raine's story in Book II was really well done--how does a man reconcile with his failures and move on? I think this could easily have devolved into long pages of whining and self-pity, but McPhail doesn't do this and we get what is fittingly Raine's way of dealing with his mistakes.

(i) I was actually sort of disappointed with character development for some of the old characters from Book 1 especially Trell and Bjorn. I was really sad that the complex nature of Bjorn in Book 1, which made him my favorite from that book, is absent in Book 2. He sort of turns into your generic sage. I mean I realize that he's supposed to have strong "conviction," but he must also question his actions especially since those actions have brought about so many deaths. What ever happened to inner uncertainty and self-dialogue? His confidence is just not believable if we are supposed to take him as a human and yet he is not a god. For Trell, we get several plot developments in Book 2 but how has he changed as a character? His simple acceptance of certain new "duties" (don't want to ruin plot)seems a bit unbelievable. I think we're almost getting to the point where I'd have to criticize Trell for being a "perfect" hero. He was just a much more interesting character in Book 1.

(ii) There are a couple of romances in Book 2 and I was not a fan of how these were implemented because they were way too much love at first sight. It just feels a bit forced to me. For me, a good romance in fantasy starts with witty banter, that's where the chemistry can actually be felt by a reader, and really, given that the reader has the front row seat, shouldn't we realize that they're in love before they do? But this could just be my taste.

Thanks again to Ms. McPhail for such a great read! I'm now officially behind in finishing up a history paper.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2015
Having read the first book, Cephrael's Hand, I was somewhat reluctant to start Dagger of Adendigaeth. However, curiosity (and a relatively low price) won out, and I went ahead and made the purchase. Unfortunately, the problems of the first book (ludicrously long names, deus ex machina solutions, confusingly inconsistent villains, etc.) were amplified.

One character (albeit a "throwaway" guy we don't really care about very much) does actually die; other than that, the main characters seem to go through all their trials and tribulations without any lasting damage. The "plot twist" was telegraphed about as loudly as the one from the first book. All this, combined with the frequent typos and grammatical errors, made Dagger a real challenge to finish.

Which is a shame, because it could've been really good.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2012
Overall, this is still an excellent first set of books for a new writer. Having said that, I admit I was hoping the writer might improve on her work a little with the second book, as the first book seemed to get a little better as it went along.

I was pleased she did away with the jarring flashbacks from the first book, but here she erred with some of her characters in that they behaved in ways that did not ring true to what the reader had come to expect of them. It's kind of a classic error, the sudden "misunderstanding" from a character who previously has been very thoughtful and discerning, but now jumps to conclusions based on a snippet of an overheard conversation. This is not a fatal flaw for the book, but enough to drop it down a star IMO.

Overall, I'm still interested in the characters and the plot, and very much want to find out where they end up. I look forward to the next book (hope it takes less than 2 years to get published!). I encourage the author to please keep writing, as even if she doesn't drastically improve, she has written stories that are still entertaining and worth the read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2012
What an exciting and captivating read! Melissa's poetic and fast paced writing style is my new standard upon which I shall inevitably judge further writing. Not only is she a joy to read but the world created thus far is as dear to my heart as classic worlds presented in ages passed.

This series is a must read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 2012
This book kept me up late into the night, and that's a good thing! For those lovers of epic fantasy, this series is a must read. Now begins the long wait for for book 3. Maybe I'll read book one again. Yeah it was that good.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 2013
TOO LONG. How many story lines and convoluted, confusing names can one person fit into a book? I enjoyed the first one but I seriously could not get past the halfway point of this one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 2015
The story (referring to books 1 & 2) has promise in terms of the depth of the world building, the concept of the magics used, and character complexity. I will admit, I DO want to know what happens. However, I am also extremely tired of reading a story where you feel as if you're waiting for the characters to come to a conclusion you reached 500 pages ago.
A major theme in these books is the concept of "it's not about the destination, it's about the journey." While I agree with the importance of that, when you're telling someone a story about your vacation, do you spend 20 minutes rhapsodizing about the 5 hour car ride there? No. You hit the highlights.
Many scenes are spent agonizing over feelings, honor triumphing over good sense, and action sequences drowned out in tides of emotion.
Although I would like to have the satisfaction of an actual conclusion, I don't believe reading the conclusion will be satisfying.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2015
If anything, this book was better than the first. The characters have come into their own, the stories are more entrenched, I've become more invested in the whole thing.

Sorta Spoilers????

I have only one complaint. I'm never really afraid for a major characters life. I get that they are 'Players' and are kinda important for storyline, but I have no fear. I hate to compare to George RR Martin, but one thing you never had with his books was a feeling that, it'll be OK. It makes for a harsher read, but one where dangerous situations mean characters...any characters, can die, means I as a reader fear for my favorite characters. Now I know a lot of people disliked that in his books, but i think the suspense is ridiculous when in tense situations. Even Tolkien didn't really kill off main characters
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2015
Lots of revelations of characters and their history. Nothing major in terms of plot advancement and by that I mean no real climax or resolution.

I really disliked the end. A book with a small reveal of who a character is when it was already all but confirmed then to have that character escape is a cop out. Finish a plot line. This reminds me of the later books in the wheel of time series where everything felt drawn out, long winded, and ultimately unimportant to the storyline.

This book will leave you with a lame cliff hanger likely meant to force one to buy the next book if you want to get the ending that belonged in this book. Poor form.
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Cephrael's Hand: A Pattern of Shadow & Light Book One by Melissa McPhail (Paperback - December 5, 2014)

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