4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2010
This is a great tale that picks up speed as you read on. The story is full of realistic characters with genuine inner struggles, who together face serious external conflicts. Colin is a great lead character and when he feels something, you feel it too.
The unique customs, settings, and histories really flesh this world out, and although it sort of feels like colonial America early on, things take a dramatic change for the better when the other races are discovered. I thoroughly liked the magic, including its limitations and costs, though it was pretty sparely used during the first half of the story. For those who like lots of magic up front, you'll have to wait.
The action starts off small, changing to larger scale skirmishes and battles later on. What I liked best about this book was how the protagonist resolves the final conflict using his abilities. I won't say how, but it was a breath of fresh air for the genre.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
One's enjoyment of The Well of Sorrows, by Benjamin Tate (pen name of Joshua Palmatier) will depend greatly on two issues: one's patience for slowly developing stories and the amount of "fantasy" one is looking for in a fantasy novel. But by all means, give this book a try, as it is turned out to be one of my top ten fantasy reads of the year, though having been released in 2010 it can't go on my official list for 2011. It can, however, go on my "Why do I start reading compelling series before they are completed; will I never learn?" list.
The story's opening setting is Portstown, a "New World" colony still riven by old "Family" feuds from the mother kingdom across the ocean. In short order, things fall apart and after a quickly quelled riot (starkly, realistically violent and well-handled), the out-of-favor Families end up on a forced emigration, forming a wagon train heading out into the unexplored/unsettled plains. With them are the main characters--a young boy named Colin; his fiancé, Karen; his parents; and Walter--the local Lord's son and representative and the person who has been brutally beating/tormenting Colin for some time back in Portstown. We follow their movement across new lands, past a geographic obstacle known as the Escarpment, and then we watch their first contact on the upper plains with several groups: first the Alvritshai, led by a young heir to one of their Houses, Aeren; then the Dwarren, and finally the horrifying Shadows. After a surprisingly dark turn, the book skips ahead several decades to a transformed Colin, one now able to wield a form of magic associated with the titular Well, magic which has basically allowed him not to age but which has also come at some cost and possible threat to his humanity. Many of the characters from the first 200 pages are long gone (a real risk on Page's part), though the Alvritshai being a long-lived race, Aeren is still alive and eventually becomes Colin's close companion, blooming into a major character in his own right. The rest of the novel, another 300 pages or so, deals with two eventually intertwined issues: the hostile and combustible relations between the three races--humans, Dwarren, and Alvritshai, and the growing threat of the Shadows and Wraiths to all three races. A threat that few beside Colin seem willing to give credence to and a threat that Colin, thanks to his use of magic, is uniquely positioned to do something about, though not without personal cost.
That's not a lot of detail but I really don't want to give much of the plot away. As mentioned above, you'll need to be a patient reader for this one. This is a novel that really takes its time, unfolding slowly yet engrossingly. In its pacing, its level of detail, its quiet use of magic, Well of Sorrows reminded me a lot of some Robin Hobb (not in any derivative sense), which for me is great praise. I was pulled into the story from the start and while I recognized its slowness, I reveled in the pace rather than chafed at it. Not once did I feel the urge to skim or skip ahead, not once did I bemoan the lack of a stronger-minded editor. It was a long, slow book and it was just as long and slow as it needed to be. I wouldn't be shocked to find some people, maybe even a lot, thinking it too slow, but definitely give it some time to see if its pace wins you over.
The other possible issue for some fantasy fans is the delayed arrival of the "fantasy" aspect and the relatively restrained amount of what is usually taken as "fantasy." Until one meets the Shadows, almost 200 pages in, it may as well be an alternative historical novel retelling the story of Jamestown (not literally or exactly, just the basic idea) and then the story of the Oregon Trail. Even then, and even with Colin's transformation into one who can wield powerful magic, the fantastic elements remain light. The Dwarren are obviously dwarf-like (smaller of stature, living underground), but they are not dwarves. The Alvritshai have Elvish aspects (taller than humans, longer-lived), but they are not elves. Tate has taken the racial tropes and put his own spin on them, making them feel wholly original and separate and their placement in the New World setting increases that sense of originality. Colin's magic is a bit vague (purposely so I'd say as more gets explained in book two), but what we see is relatively unique, involving not just some potency against the shadows (the more common sort of fantasy magic), but observation and eventually manipulation of time, albeit it in quite constrained fashion.
Eventually the magic gets ramped up, we get a battle or two, but a lot of the story deals with political intrigue and maneuvering, the major goal turns out to be the prevention of a battle rather than leading us to the same old climactic battle scene, and the magic-user mostly tries his best to avoid using magic. It's a light, restrained overlay of fantasy and a refreshingly enjoyable approach.
The characters are mostly well drawn and if there isn't a lot of change in them, I'd say it's not for lack of good characterization but mostly due to the slow pace. What does change though, is relationships among characters, again at a slow but realistic pace. The cultural details are plentiful and make the different races and characters feel fully formed and realistic, as do their interactions with each other. Finally, while there aren't a lot of lines you'll linger over for their stylistic panache, the prose is smooth, precise, and mostly effortless with some nice descriptive lines throughout. Dialogue is probably the weakest aspect of the novel; it isn't bad, but it doesn't crackle.
The main storyline is resolved, but ends with an obvious lead into the next book, Leaves of Flame, due out in January 2012. While this second book isn't quite as good as Well of Sorrows (there are more pacing issues), it's still quite strong and the latter third just as good. If you start Well of Sorrows now, you can pick up Leaves of Flame when it's released right after the holidays. Both are highly recommended. According to his website, book three will be entitled Breath of Heaven, I wish I already had it in hand.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
In the landof Andover, the Twelve Families of the Court prepare for a Feud that will eventually be an all out war tearing apart the country. Citizens from each of the Families travel on ships across the Arduon Ocean to escape the fighting and to settle on land promised to them. Colin Harten and his parents travel to Portstown, which belongs to House Carente, who does not welcome the refugees from the Twelve Families war or their allies.
The Hartens, who belong to the Bontari Family, are forced to live in a city where they cannot find work. The situation gets so bad that the Proprietor ruler of the establishment plans to destroy the Lean-to city where the refugees live. He tells the residents that they can go on a wagon train to begin a new settlement trying to be created by the Family and the Church. Colin's dad leads the wagon train knowing no one who left for the Plains ever returned. They encounter the Alvritshi warriors who warn them to go back. However, the refugees decide to continue though afraid as they have nothing to return to. The Dwarren hate humans who betrayed treaties with them attack them while the dark forest contains Shadows who kill without leaving a trace. Colin barely survives but the Faelehgre spirits of light get him the drink of Life Blood from the Well of Sorrows. He stays there for several years and is no longer human. After six decades he returns to human lands and realizes there is no place for him but he is needed.
This is a huge fantasy in which the above paragraphs fails to even come close to what is going on as the details are extraordinary. Colin obviously plays a critical role in the Colonies now called Provinces. Using the colonization of the Americas as a background, Benjamin Tate builds his own fantasized world that seems real and most critical the three prime species seem genuine. Mindful of Kate Elliot and, Terry Goodkind. Fans will enjoy this strong thriller while anticipating the next installment.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2013
Colin Harten isn't happy in his new home of Portstown. His parents have brought him over the sea to the New World to escape an anticipated war in Andover. Some of the problems of Andover follow them. In Portstown, only those favored by the ruling Proprietor's Family are given the prime jobs and preferred homes. Colin's family is stuck in Lean-to, a rough tent-city of outcasts. Bullied to his breaking point, Colin fights back. Unfortunately his enemy is the son of the Proprietor, and Colin is harshly punished. At the same time, Lean-to's inhabitants clash with the Proprietor's forces over the discriminatory treatment. The people of Lean-to are given an ultimatum and leave Portstown to explore the dangerous interior of the continent, claiming land for the Proprietor's Family, but being given a chance to make a better life for themselves.
Bizarre storms and rumors of fierce natives don't stop the expedition from venturing up the Escarpment. It isn't long before they encounter the Alvritshai and Dwarren and discover the fate of previous expeditions. As the second section of the novel begins, Colin has changed (literally) and is far removed from the kid he once was. His journey as the protagonist of the novel takes a unique path.
Elements of the stereotypical epic fantasy novel might include a naive young hero, elves and dwarves, mysterious evil, and battles involving multiple armies. In Well of Sorrows, there are elements of all these things, but Benjamin Tate is able to arrange these components in a fresh way that makes for a rousing tale of exploration, politics, and war.
The magic that develops was surprising. Small spoiler: When Colin gains the ability to stop or slow time, this gives him power and aggravates his emotional scars. It's like an addiction in its irresistible allure and, whether he sees it coming or not, the price he pays for its use. Colin's power appears similar in nature to the evil that emerges, and I imagine that in the next volume, his internal battles will become tougher.
I'm not sure if it's really a criticism since it didn't detract from my enjoyment of this novel, but I couldn't help but draw parallels between the Alvritshai and elves, and the Dwarren and dwarves. There may be readers who have an allergy to anything remotely elvish or dwarvish. In this story's world, these non-human races have their own creative qualities that bring them to life and make them unique. One of my favorite touches was how the Dwarren ride small antelope native to the plains, rather than some fantastical beasts.
After the nail-biting opening section, in which the settlers from Portstown set off into the unknown, I felt like the pacing slowed. However, the Alvritshai and the Dwarren are introduced in greater detail, and Colin has to regain his bearings. I had already grown interested enough in Colin's predicament that this didn't keep me from reading onward.
Well of Sorrows is the first book in a planned trilogy, and I plan to read the next volume when it is available. I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys epic fantasy where the elves get muddy and the hero struggles against both internal and external problems. There is a lot of originality here, but as the title implies, it is a dark tale, and I'm not sure how Colin will fare in the end.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 25, 2011
Well of Sorrows is at once a personal story of young Colin Harten and an epic tale of the clash of three races vying for dominion over the "New World." The magical thread that links both stories is the aptly named Well of Sorrows.
The first part of the book focuses on Colin and his family as they struggle to survive in the slums of Portstown. The story gathers momentum when they are forced to emigrate west. Portents of disaster create a sense of imminent doom that is fulfilled when the wagon train is attacked. Colin is rescued by mysterious beings, but his fate is almost as tragic as that of the other colonists.
We spend only a chapter at the Well, but in it, Tate brilliantly encapsulates the passage of time, sets up the forces seeking dominion over the Well - and Colin - and establishes Colin's resolution to leave before he succumbs to the Well's power completely.
The final half of the book focuses on the struggles of the three races for supremacy. This is where Tate shines. He boldly rethinks the conventional fantasy tropes to create a world that is fascinating, complex, and original. His dwarren and Alvritshai bear only a passing resemblance to traditional dwarves and elves, just as his "wild, wild West" is recognizable only by the covered wagons that traverse it and the "gaezels" that inhabit its grasslands. The political machinations feel as real as the characters who are caught up in them.
As you might expect from the first book of a trilogy, this one offers a provisional "happy" ending and the promise of future havoc. While I am interested in the fate of the three races, I will keep reading to learn whether Colin will resist the lure of the Well or fall prey to its power. Given Tate's penchant for dark, brooding narrative, there will be no easy resolution. In his world, victory requires sacrifice and magic exacts a brutal cost. I'm eager to see just how high the price will be.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on July 28, 2010
With so much urban fantasy saturating the market these days, it's really nice to see that a good ol' fashioned fantasy novel can still show up on the shelves. Like, say, Benjamin Tate's Well of Sorrows.
Well of Sorrows tells the story of Colin, a boy who's come with his parents across the sea to a new country, fleeing war in their homeland--only to discover that the city where they've settled has no use whatsoever for the influx of refugees. Violence eventually ensues, and Colin's father must lead a group of their people out to try to found a new settlement. But there are strange and dangerous things out in the plains, things which have caused previous settlers to never be seen again.
Colin's family's group of course finds these dangerous things. And Colin's life is irretrievably changed.
I could go on from there, but that would be significant spoilerage. I will however say that this is only really the first stretch of the book; the main storyline is what happens long after these events. And I can add that the worldbuilding is the primary thing that appealed to me about Tate's work. The idea of an overseas colony, complete with strife between it and the motherland, is not new to fantasy to be sure. But it's handled well here and with a nice balance between a realistic feel and just enough magic to remind you that oh yeah, this is in fact a fantasy novel--not to mention that there are two non-human races that initially will probably strike most readers as thinly disguised elves and dwarves. Tate's names for them, the Alvritshai and the dwarren, do not exactly dispel that impression. (That said, the dwarren are not miners, which helps a lot.)
Much of the book hinges upon the volatile relations between the humans, the Alvritshai, and the dwarren, and this is really where it shone for me. I was less invested in Colin's acquisition of magical powers that enabled him to be the prime person to stop the blossoming warfare, mostly because his acquisition of them is primarily off-camera and so I had to adjust hard to jump from "Colin as youth" to "Colin as man with magical ability". Aeren, one of the lords of the Alvritshai, becomes a more accessible character in the latter stretches of the book.
Lastly, I'll note that Tate had a bit too much "as you know Bob" type dialogue in various conversations, such as an Alvritshai character using a given term and then immediately following it with the term's definition--in conversation to another Alvritshai. But that was pretty much the only issue I had with any of the writing at all, and I'll definitely be coming back for the next book in the series. 'Cause this ain't done, not by a long shot. And I do need to know what happens next! Four stars.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
At first I thought that the beginning of Benjamin Tate's Well of Sorrows was a touch slow, but I quickly came to appreciate it. By the time Colin and his parents launched their expedition I could feel, taste, see, hear, and smell the world they lived in. Everything came beautifully alive, and every aspect of the societies involved came together to form a fascinating whole. The worldbuilding is absolutely stunning.
Similarly, I was surprised at the points where Tate decided to skip periods of time in the story, and yet again it didn't take long for me to feel that he'd done exactly the right thing.
The story itself is epic in scope and scale, although always tied together through the use of Colin's presence. The characters have a great deal of depth and interest, and many of them captured my imagination. The setting is grim and gritty; colonization and settlement expeditions do not tend to be safe nor easy, and Tate shows this in an unflinching manner. If you need your fantasy to be clean, if you need all of the characters to be saved at the last minute, then this isn't the book for you.
Well of Sorrows kept me spellbound for the entire length of the thick paperback. It's well worth your time to delve into this heart-wrenching story!
[NOTE: review book provided courtesy of publisher]
on August 9, 2010
Let me start off this review by saying that I really loved this book. I wasn't sure what to expect when I started it but it kept me on my toes throughout the book.
The book begins with the story of Colin Harten emigrating, along with his family from strife-filled Andover to the new lands over the ocean to the east. There immigrants like the Harten family face discrimination in the new provinces from the respectable "old blood" of Portstown. Bullied and beaten, Colin fights back which leads to his family's eventual decision to head east over the land in search of new land to claim for the Proprietor of Portstown. This first section then follows Colin and all the families who head east with him.
After disaster strikes, Colin drinks from the Well of Sorrows and transforms into something ...else. He also learns that the deadly Shadows that live in the eastern forest are hungry to possess the Well of Sorrows and have developed "wraiths" to assist them in their plans.
His eventual return to Portstown leads him to join a group of Alvritshai, one of three races he encountered during the trip east over the plains. The second half of the book then turns to the larger issues of revenge and political intrigue among the three major races: human, Alvritshai and the stout and war-like Dwarren.
In the background, Tate drops hints of war back in Andover over the "Rose" - a potential weapon.
Well of Sorrows is well written and captivating. It blends realism and fantasy beautifully. Every time I thought I knew what would happen next, the book surprised me yet no surprise was jarring - the twists and turns were seamless and inevitable. My one (minor) complaint was the *some* of the dialogue was a little wooden and not natural. It was a little too much Tate trying to tell us something through dialogue. However, this is a small glitch in an otherwise fully developed fantasy book. I look forward to the second book in the series.
on January 18, 2015
Well of Sorrows
By Benjamin Tate
Reviewed by D. Andrew McChesney
As this tale starts, refugees fleeing a pending war find that even across the sea, they are not safe nor wanted. Their final option is leaving again, striking out across a vast unknown wilderness. Their expedition it is threatened by inhospitable terrain, unnatural weather, and unknown peoples. Fleeing destruction by those known as dwarren, their wagon train makes its last stand near a dark forest. The real danger is not from these savage inhabitants of the plains, but from the very shadows of the woods. All members perish except Colin, a young boy, who is guided to the Well of Sorrows. Its water saves him, while turning him into something other than human. Is he capable of bringing peace to human,dwarren, and Alvritshai, while protecting all from the dark spirits of the forest?
Whether he writes as Benjamin Tate or Joshua Palmatier, this author is a master world builder. In Well of Sorrows he introduces an alien world much like our Earth of several hundred years ago. Colin and his family could be displaced Europeans looking for a new start in America. It is only when the expedition heads out onto the unexplored plains that we learn this world is inhabited by peoples, powers, and spirits completely alien to what we know. Wisely, he introduces these aspects slowly, giving the reader time to absorb them and to learn about the world along with the tale’s participants. Magic plays a subtle but ever increasing role, but it is an extension of the natural order of this world, rather than an abstract force.
This is a very entertaining read, ending with a twist causing the reader to want and need to read the sequel.
on July 24, 2014
The sudden shift in main character POV in the middle of the book from a character I came to care about to one I hardly knew completely jarred me out of the story. I could not get into the rest of the book and ultimately passed it onto a second handstore - this coming from someone who collects books.