Veiled Empire: Book One of the Sundered World Trilogy Mass Market Paperback – July 7, 2015
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From the Back Cover
The Empire is Shrouded, not only by the barrier that covers the land, but by the lies and oppression of the mierothi regime. Magic is the privilege of the elite, and the people of this shadowed country have forgotten what it means to hope under their rule.
But there are some who would resist, with plans put into motion millennia before. For returned to the Empire is a valynkar, servant of the god of light, and with him come the strength and cunning that could tip the scales to end the Emperor's reign. He has gathered a group of heroes ready to ignite the flame of rebellion and fight against the dark power that has ruled for nearly two thousand years. A power that has champions of its own.
Nathan Garrison's Veiled Empire throws a mythical land into chaos, with races long thought forgotten, and magics only just discovered. Steel and sorcery clash as brave souls vie for freedom and control in this astonishing debut novel.
About the Author
Born in 1983, Nathan Garrison has been writing stories since his dad bought their first family computer. He grew up on tales of the fantastic. From Narnia and Middle-earth to a galaxy far, far away, he has always harbored a love for things only imagination can conjure up. He counts it among the greatest joys of his life to be able to share the stories within him. He has two great boys and an awesome wife who is way more supportive of his writing efforts than he thinks he deserves. Besides writing, he loves playing guitar (the louder the better), cooking (the more bacon-y the better), playing board/video/card games with friends and family, and reveling in unadulterated geekery.
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Let me first clarify that this isn't a mean spirited attempt to throw cold water on the few existing reviews of this book. If possible, I would have given the book 3.5 stars. Amazon treats 3 star reviews as being "critical", but in truth my personal scale equates 5 stars as being "close to perfection", 4 stars as "amazing and exceptional", and 3 stars as "better than 75% of the genre, worth reading if you have the time."
What I liked:
- The plot was interesting enough to keep me reading. Some reviews on good reads hint at trope subversion...I looked and didn't see any of that. Instead the writer made sensible choices of trope aversion in not relying on McGuffins, and avoiding the "Hero's Journey". The choice to base most of the main characters within armies certainly helped in avoiding quest cliches;
- I like how the writer handled exposition. There was very little in the way of info dumps or "As you know Bob..." conversations for detailing the world and the character backgrounds. Instead we get this information gradually, through flashbacks, or internal dialogue reactions to observed phenomena. If you keep reading beyond the first mentions of things like Ropes/Mierothii/Valynkar, you will get a satisfactory explanation of what they are;
- Good pacing. I did not notice any real slowdowns, yet enough time is spent explaining things that there isn't much confusion
- Not brimming with bad sex. Seriously, regardless of genre, so many current writers seem to assume that readers somehow want this. Or maybe there's a serious lot of wish fulfillment going on, but anyway kudos to Garrison for not trying to drag this book down with the like.
- The prose is pedestrian and effortless to read. I realize this can be both good and bad, but I read this in the wake of Malazan, and it was nice to be able to breeze through a book in a matter of hours with 100% conviction that I won't need nor benefit from a reread. I think at least one of the other reviews have described the book as "thought provoking". Really? In what way? Compared to what? Not trying to be a jerk, I think the details would be interesting.
What didn't work:
- I very much appreciate humor in my fiction reading. The occasional sorties at it in this book felt very flat. If a sequel is released, I dearly hope that future attempts at comedy are based around situations or (true) irony. If they are going to be of the crack a joke variety, the writer seriously needs to work on the ability to craft a well turned comedic phrase, or else simply adopt good existing lines from other sources, and adapt them to his story;
- The attempts at detailing the emergence and progression of romance came off as very amateurish and clumsy. The lines between Slick Ren and Yandumar in particular I was convinced were written by a fourteen year old, until I researched some background of the writer. This is a fantasy book, like most other people I'm reading it with a very open mindset, yet I constantly had difficulty suspending my disbelief about how people felt about one another and why;
- I skimmed through the action scenes. Characters that fry ten thousand elite enemies at a time should stay in comic books. Yeah, I know its a trend, but it doesn't mean I have to pretend to like it; And there is so much killing in this book. If not for that, I would have assumed this book was strictly intended as YA. Contrary to the official classifications I've seen of this book though, the body count didn't make the book seem dark, that would require something more in the way of atmosphere/theme/thought etc.
- Please don't do the corpseless death thing. Most readers have been around in this genre long enough to know exactly what the situation is. At this time it represents an uninspired storytelling device;
- It is unusual for me to read a book this long, with it this fresh in my memory, and not be able to recall at least one memorable line. To be fair though, the absence didn't really detract from the book as a whole. I finished the book and I don't feel cheated of my time.
- Characterization. Essentially, no one in the book felt real to me. From how other reviewers are gushing about this, it is entirely possible that I'm the one who needs crazy pills. Yet, at no point in the story would I have felt...anything....if one of the characters died. Maybe Voren...maybe. I can read something by Guy Gavriel Kay or Erickson and minor characters there will be sketched out in greater depth within a few lines than the major ones here are here over the course of an entire book.
From page one, Nathan Garrison drops readers into the middle of a quickly escalating rebellion. The mierothi hegemony over the world has stood unchallenged for millennia, protected by the Shroud above and by their iron grip on all magic, but now a serious challenge to their control has arisen, led by a mysterious leader whose motives seem pure and whose cunning seems beyond compare. The revolt which he unleashes well planned, far reaching and quick to gain more and more momentum.
Sent out to help crush the rebellion in its supposed infancy is the savage, brutal, and efficient Mevon, a magically augmented and highly trained killer of magic users. He and his hand chosen soldiers closing in on a group of mages in a search and destroy type mission. However, soon, Mevon’s unshakable confidence in his invulnerability and purpose in life are rocked to their very core!
Meanwhile, the leaders of the revolution begin to come into focus. They are mysterious, powerful, and determined to destroy the tyranny of the mierothi. But behind the noblest of purposes lie less altruistic motives, waiting to slowly bubble to the surface and affect everyone they lead.
Within the heart of the mierothi empire, there lie two friends from different worlds: Voren the valynkar, and his unlikely friend Draevenus, a mierothi assassin. The two drawn apart by their parts in the swirling events of the revolution. Voren’s life as a prisoner in a gilded cage quickly turning into a turning point in his life; his desire to survive warring with his guilt at his past betrayals. Draevenus also is torn, setting out on a shadowy mission to right age old wrongs and perhaps find a path to redemption for his part in his races enslavement of a world.
While all that sounds damn good, I have to admit completely overlooking Veiled Empire when it was released. My assumption being that this book/series was yet another generic fantasy/sword and sorcery hybrid which would travel along familiar trope lines and offer nothing new. Little did I know that Nathan Garrison had something more in store, determined to push the envelope, mixing and matching magic and combat, intrigue and characterization, world building and stunning twists until he had created a new flavor of fantasy. And I have to say I liked it quite a lot.
Like always, it all began with the characters themselves; several of whom I quickly grew to like and empathized with, wanting to know more about their past and their motives. Definitely, a few seemed a bit overpowered at times, or their sudden change of personality seemed a bit dubious, but overall, I felt Nathan Garrison did an outstanding job of creating realistic people whose differences were noticeable and did affect their choices and behavior throughout.
I also immensely enjoyed the world building. The mierothi empire was filled with a rich history, which — while only hinted at in broad ways — was still was very tantalizing, especially the ancient past before the Shroud sprang into existence; unique races populated the landscape; and the magic which permeates this place was realistic, powerful, and used in some cool ways. Now, I’m not suggesting the magic system itself is in the same category as Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn or anything, but, at least, the author built in enough quirks and surprises to keep it interesting throughout, which I can’t always say for some fantasy offerings.
Above and beyond all these great things though is the twisting, turning plot which Nathan Garrison weaves, especially regarding a few characters. This trio and their choices keeping a reader guessing throughout the narrative, wondering what they are hiding, what their true motives are, and when another subtle but significant twist is going to happen, causing the tale to speed off in unlooked for direction. Call it Game of Thrones lite or whatever, but I found it all really entertaining.
The only real complaint I have with this book was the characterization of two characters. I won’t go into details for fear of spoiling anything, but I just have to say that their sudden change of heart never felt very compelling or realistic. Yeah, reasons for the changes were provided, but they did not ring true to me.
All in all, Veiled Empire was a pleasant surprise. It was a novel I read without any preconceived expectations of its brilliance, and it turned me into a fan of its exciting fantasy/sword and sorcery style, tantalizing me with brutal combat, vicious intrigue, and more than a few touching moments. Will others enjoy it as much as I did? Can’t say for sure, but I do think more people should give it a try and see what they think of it.
The story is told from 6 different POV’s (I think I’m counting correctly) which makes for an intricate read of interlacing motivations and schemes. Although the twists and turns might be somewhat confusing in the beginning given the number of POV’s and the richness of the world and shared pasts of several of the characters, the novel slowly grows and delights you with its complexity. Be warned, you might weep for some of your favorite characters as Garrison plays with them like a cat with a mouse. You might also end up highlighting many of the beautifully written sentences. Highly recommended!
Top international reviews
The story is many-layered and richly textured. This is subtly done, like those wonderful films where the story carries you breathlessly to the end and you only get to appreciate how lovingly dressed all the sets are on a second and third viewing. It also achieved a dream-like quality – bursts of movement, sudden shifts – one of those intense dreams that leaves you disorientated on waking, not sure which world is real.
Throughout, the author trusts in the intelligence of the reader. Enough is given to stimulate the imagination, allowing the reader to fill in the details and enjoy the richness. This, in turn, allows the author to get on with building the world and telling the story in which it takes place. And Garrison handles this well, because it is a complex story and not once did I feel bemused. It is true I was intrigued and, at times mystified, but only in the places I suspect that I was meant to be intrigued and mystified. At no other point was I left behind, and given the story, this speaks volumes for the author’s skill.
All in all this was great story telling and a satisfying narrative experience set in a well-realised world. What more could you ask? Apart from the sequel, of course.