Book Review: The Servant Lord by Aneeka Richens

Stats:  The Servant Lord (Chaos Gods Book 2) by Aneeka Richens

281 pages

2014

$3.99 on Amazon for Kindle

I did not write a review of the first novel in this series, The Wanted Child, mainly because I was reading it among about seven other novels at the time.  I overall enjoyed the story of the first novel, even if the writing was a bit clunky, and wanted to read the second one.

Spoilers.  Duh.

Plot:  The plot of the story directly continues from the last novel.  De strives to prove himself to both mortals and gods that he will live up to his title of prophesied Hero (despite him being born a boy instead of a girl) through his inventions and ingenuity, proving his worth to be told in legends for eons.  He does this by using his inventions to reform Gates that, if melted, would unleash demons (and the main villain, a god named Rising Chaos) onto the lands.  While it works, it isn’t successful without the help of magic from his fiancée, Maggie, a girl who rose from servant-hood to Blessed and will do anything to stay that way.  She is also at times mistaken to be the prophesied Hero, much to De’s distress.  De also wants to prove himself to his trainer Ki, the main character from the last novel, who is also the foretold Wanted Child he is prophesied to kill (though he doesn’t know that bit about her yet).

In the previous book, Ki gave up her human-ness to save him from a demon monster, and is now a demon herself, capable of killing anything she touches.  All throughout the novel, De’s obsession with her is the driving force of the plot.  He wants to please her, make her happy, and prove that her sacrifice didn’t go to waste on him.  Of course Maggie isn’t keen on his fixation with Ki, and makes this very clear throughout the novel (though not nearly as much as the previous one).  This love triangle takes a plot turn when, during the Binding ceremony, De is ‘accidentally’ bonded to Ki rather than Maggie.

This bonding somehow makes her a Servant Lord, and forces her to flee to the Fallen Lands were demons reside.  Somehow this also makes the Gates collapse again, and De must kill the Wanted Child if they are to stay intact.  De and Maggie hurry off to the Fallen Lands in hopes of finding the Wanted Child and killing her.

This is about 40% into the novel.  The plot, unfortunately, doesn’t start picking up again until about 80% through.  The middle 40% is almost entirely a pure mess of exposition, ranging from how magic works (or doesn’t work), mental battles against demons for control of a body, eating demons for energy, balancing the Binding energies between Ki and De (if one dies, both die), explaining the hierarchy of the demons (it turns out Servant Lord isn’t all that imposing of a title to have), how prayers work, how gods and lords work, and typical teenage whining about wanting a happy ending for everyone and insisting there has to be a happy ending for everyone.  Sometimes the rules are discovered during fights, but the action scenes aren’t very memorable and since they’re all ‘mental’ fights that get repetitive after about two.  There really is no other action in the story.  And while the explanations continue until the very last chapter, at least in the last 20% they’re weaved into the story a bit better rather than just characters talking.

Eventually De finds out Ki is the Wanted Child and must either kill her (which means killing himself thanks to their Binding) or sparing her but condemning the planet.  There is an underplot to this story, but it isn’t really revealed until, as mentioned, about 80% into the novel.    Now I usually love scheming underplots, but the gods responsible for the underplot – Tavk and Sister Chaos – don’t seem to care too much about their own plan, the details of which aren’t revealed until the last 5% of the story.  They tend to be dismissive of their own nefarious trickery, which is too bad because that’s what these gods were known for.  And if they don’t care, why should I?

Overall, there’s a solid plot for about 50-60% of the novel, mostly at the beginning and some at the end.  The middle 40% is nearly pure elucidation on things you’d think would be important to understand for the plot to work, but come off as more a school lecture than a storyline and is at times so complex and unnecessary that it is easily forgotten.  It is unfortunate, because the plot is there, and it is unique and good, but it’s bogged down by rules, rules, rules.

Characters: There are two main characters in the story, De and Ki, and the perspective of the story changes between them, though De seems to be the more prominent of the two.  Which I wouldn’t have much of a problem with…if he wasn’t a giddy, one-track minded, blindly shallow pest.  He makes it very obvious that he’d rather be with Ki than Maggie since the beginning…so much as even going and narrating things such as:

A Hero, he reminded himself, would not throttle his fiancée [Maggie] three days before their wedding. (Side note:  There is never a good time for a ‘Hero’ to throttle his fiancée)

He usually forgot other people were terrified of demons.  So what if they [demons, like Ki] could kill in an instant?  (This is a good enough reason to be terrified of ‘anyone’)

De rubbed a hand over his eyes.  This was going to be a long night.  How he wished he could be with Ki instead [of Maggie].

He does this throughout nearly the entire novel.  De’s obsession with Ki actually blocks him from maturing, which makes it seem all the more bizarre when he chooses to kill her over saving her during their confrontation.  I get that there’s a point of conflict here, but he was so blindly obsessed with Ki that it doesn’t seem like he’d chose the planet over her.

He’s also obsessed with himself, and wanting to prove himself over and over again through use of his inventions.  He constantly daydreams about being a Hero in the most grandiose fashion, even during the worst of times and darkest of situations.  If he did it rarely I’d consider him an optimist, but his fantasy is to the point where he acts delusional.  There are a couple instances when he realizes the grim situation that he’s in and puts his whims on hold, but these are few and far between and rarely last long enough to weigh on him.  He’s supposed to be the Hero character that saves the world, but doesn’t even realize the gravity of what’s placed on him.  This might be okay for a 13-year old, but he’s supposed to be 17-18.

Ki’s role in the second story is much less than the first.  While she tends to mope a lot, I’m a bit more forgiving because of her transformation from human to demon.  Unlike De, she’s actually had bad things happen to her and is trying to figure out what to do next.  However, like De, she’s obsessed with everyone having a happy ending to the point where she doesn’t grow.  Again, she has her instances of growth and coming to terms with the darkness that is surrounding her destiny, but doesn’t actually consider the darkness as an obstacle.  She more or less plows through anything, unfettered by the consequences of her actions.

Maggie is the only other character really worth mentioning, but she loses consciousness around 60% through the novel and becomes dead weight for the rest of the book.  She pretty much retains her role as in the last novel, as the spoiled, jealous girlfriend type who is always berating Ki and De’s relationship with her.  Like the other two characters, her obsession holds her back.  De is the sun and moon to her, and she can’t let go of him long enough to realize the danger of the situation and to mature into someone that has the potential to be a very powerful character thanks to her exalted status as a Blessed.  Out of all the characters, I wish she had done the most maturing throughout the story, but like her peers she falls far short.

There are other minor characters – Tavk, Sister Chaos, a floating cape demon with no actual name – but they have such scattered, minor roles that I hardly consider them substantial in any way except at the very end.  As mentioned earlier, Tavk and Sister Chaos are the two gods who are revealed to have an underplot in the works, but at the end almost admittedly don’t care about it.  They act like puppet masters who, if their puppets (De and Ki) break, they’ll just get new ones.  Essentially, they’re scheming because they want to, not necessarily need to, so the stake in their plan is inconsequential.

I liked the floating cape at first, but even he got a bit boring after a while.  He was supposed to be a smarmy ‘guide’ for De while he was in the Fallen Lands, but he came off as an obnoxious jerk more irritating than entertaining.  His actual identity is revealed, but by the time it is he’d become such a snob I didn’t care.

In short, any character development that the first book took time to build was shattered in this one.  All of the main characters are, throughout most of the novel, whiners obsessed with their ‘one size fit all’ view on life.  Characters that have the same personality cannot grow off of each other.  They need conflict, more than what the love triangle tries to establish in the novel, but falls short.  There are some pockets of development, but the characters, being as one-track minded as they are, forget their lessons quickly.

Another quick note…there are no true adults in the novel.  The main characters are around 15-18 years old, and everyone else is either a god or a demon.  While not necessarily a flaw, the immaturity of the characters made it a rather odd group to set out and save the world.  It could also very well explain why no one really gets reprimanded for their childish behavior and, thus, don’t mature.

Setting/World Building: The setting consists of four different Lands:  The Rising Lands, The Fallen Lands, The Sister Lands, and the Mutual Lands.  No actual names are given.  Each Land (except Mutual) has three gods – High, Low, and Rising – and different groups of people that form their society and/or denomination.  The Rising Land has Geniuses, the Fallen Lands have Fallens and/or Servants, and the Sister Lands have the Blessed.  Each groups have their own specialties – the Geniuses invent technologies, the Fallen and/or Servants can have several various abilities (thus the long explanations), and the Blessed have magic voices used to manipulate people and technologies.  They all seem to be lands of both magic and science, so there’s some interesting technology that exists in the world…but it doesn’t always work between the land, and the book takes a heavy chunk of text to explain some of these lands, and which magics can or cannot be used.

There are a few other hints of world buildings, such as colors and shapes that represent each of the gods and/or lands.  These are rather consistent and prominent in the presence of their respective connotation, so it’s easy as a reader to know when, say, Tavk is around or when the characters are in the Mutual Lands.

The bulk of the story takes place in the Fallen Lands, which is a dead land with no sun (which brings up a myriad of questions itself, but I won’t get into that here), hungry demons, and rare spots of hospitality.  The description of the Fallen Lands is very consistent throughout – I never felt like any details were out of place, and there is a bit of eeriness in the writing at times that makes the place come alive.

In all, like the plot, the setting and world building are there, and they are good, but again are weighed down by explanations.

Grammar/Misspellings & Flow/Syntax:  Grammar issues and misspellings were few and far between.  I caught a few, but not enough to make it irritating to read.  There were some inconsistencies as well, but these occurred in minor situations and, while confusing, were nothing that had any impact on the plot.

Flow and syntax, on the other hand, were a nightmare to read through, and really the downfall of this novel.  The similes themselves were so numerous and, at times, ridiculous that I felt like someone was constantly poking me as I was reading, irritating me into what to imagine while I was reading.  From beginning to end, the narrative was heavy with…

Over her pale skin streaked thick black lines as if a lion had torn her asunder and the wounds had healed into solid, black scars…

…excited energy burst out like streams of frosting…

Something hungry surged out of the hole in his soul and snatched the cackling energy like a hawk scooping up a mouse.

Its power was huge, like a giant banquet filling three great halls to the brim.

Questions bounced in his head like giddy rabbits

They looked old and worn, as if she’d scrounged for the oldest outfit from an even older attic somewhere.

…Ki entered a wide plain with tall mesas, randomly placed like dough that fell out of a basket from the sky.

It [a building] leaned to the side as if contemplating whether it should lie down and rest.

Ki gasped as power – old, musty power like a billion tons of ancient dirt…

Frustration like steaming, rotten onions pressed down upon her.

Tavk mused as if discussing about the loss of his favorite snack.

De yelled, rushing after the demons.  But it was like a snail chasing a horse.

These were just a handful I picked out, but the novel is littered with them.  Some are well-placed and make sense, but most are not.  As I noticed these more and more, it became pretty obvious that striking out the actual simile in each sentence did not, in any way, lose the point of the sentence.  Read these and see if there is any difference in the narrative:

Over her pale skin streaked thick black lines as if a lion had torn her asunder and the wounds had healed into solid, black scars…

…excited energy burst out like streams of frosting…

Something hungry surged out of the hole in his soul and snatched the cackling energy like a hawk scooping up a mouse.

Its power was huge, like a giant banquet filling three great halls to the brim.

Questions bounced in his head like giddy rabbits

They looked old and worn, as if she’d scrounged for the oldest outfit from an even older attic somewhere.

…Ki entered a wide plain with tall mesas, randomly placed like dough that fell out of a basket from the sky.

It [a building] leaned to the side as if contemplating whether it should lie down and rest.

Ki gasped as power – old, musty power like a billion tons of ancient dirt…

Frustration like steaming, rotten onions pressed down upon her.

Tavk mused as if discussing about the loss of his favorite snack.

De yelled, rushing after the demons.  But it was like a snail chasing a horse.

Other times, the explanation of the senses didn’t make, well, sense.  There were times a character would see things before smelling them (humans tend to do the opposite, like in the case of dead animals or rotting food).  Other odd descriptions included an ‘oily tone’, ‘it smelled weird, like rotting goo or something’, ‘a mountain of ill-pleased power’, and ‘The circle didn’t look impressed’.

I also noticed several instances in which a character would take an unusually long time to respond to a greeting or question.  There’s at least one instance where Ki, greeted by a demon lord who exalts her as a Servant Lord, takes over 300 words to respond.  Why?  Well, that’s where the 40% of explanations come from – in this case, she spends 300 words wondering why the demon lord greeted her in such a fashion.  It seems as though every time someone learns something or comes across a new bit of information, no less than several paragraphs are tagged on to explain to the reader what these mean and how they work.  As mentioned before, this really extends the story much, much longer than it needs to be, and the flow of the plot gets lost.

While the last bit of the novel had some reveals in it, many of these were revealed too late.  They could have come quite a bit earlier and would have allowed more excitement for the reader to continue, rather than having several rather huge reveals for the last 15% of the novel.

Overall/Recommendation:  I wanted to enjoy this book.  I really, really did.  The first book in the series, while suffering from some of the same flow/syntax errors as this one, had much fewer chunks of exposition and more action, character development, and plot.  While bogged and clunky at some parts in the story, the plot kept moving, the characters growing and relating, and the technologies almost self-explanatory.  I was actually curious to see what happened next, to see the characters mature, to see how things worked themselves out in this unique land and destiny.  So you can imagine my disappointment with The Servant Lord, which felt like it took everything I enjoyed about the first book and shattered it.  Not necessarily in the plot, but in character and syntax.  It overall made the book a drag to read and frustrating that the characters never seemed to learn anything during their world-saving endeavor.

I’ll just mention this now – the third book was supposed to be released in 2015.  It is now almost 2017 and, according to the author’s website, the next in the series is on an indefinite hiatus due to the book ‘refusing to come together’.  This is probably a good thing, given the confusing and exposition-heavy word salad that this book was at times, so I can only hope that when/if the third book comes out, it more than makes up for all the shortcomings of this book.

That being said, while I still recommend The Wanted Child, feel free to skip The Servant Lord.

 

What a long review, huh?  I might have to think how I’ll do these in the future.

I’ll be writing a post on Friday or Saturday to summarize this year and lay out some goals for 2017.  Ciao!

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