Book Review: Defender

Book One of the Sanctuary Series

By Robert J Crane

Overall … I like this book.  It took a little while to get there, but I like it.  The plot certainly thickens as you get closer to the end, and intrigue builds satisfyingly.  Yes, I like this book.

Now, it does take a while to get there, and you are left with doubt plaguing at points, but once we have a taste of the scale Defender - Book Coverof the problem – rampant gods, crazy dragons,  and a big war on the horizon – the whole thing makes more sense.  There are some ‘turn-offs’ in the novel, but overall this is a good read.  Nice work Robert.

I particularly like the structure of the novels, the brief intro which is then followed by a majority of the book written eight years earlier.  The second book does the same, but seven years earlier, with a tantalising suggestion that all hell has broken loose.  That’s clever, and it keeps you on track, even through the tougher bits.

Now, it felt to me like this book was improving as time went on – like cheese (or more likely wine).  I came up with a number of problems whilst reading the book, but by the time I got the end, they were lesser issues in my mind.  The risk is that a reader will pick up the book, and be turned off before they reach the end, but I would urge you to read on.  The better bits are definitely at the end of the book.

For completeness, here are some of my key observations:

  • P.O.V. is third person, but this is not always obvious.  I think the problem stems from the fact that there is not that much depth to the prose, so it feels almost omniscient at times.
  • The plot takes a while to turn into something we can grab as rational and emotional readers.  Early in the story, it appears that our hero has joined a group of mercenaries who go around killing for little more than kicks and coinage – quite challenging to swallow (for me anyway).  Fortunately, by the end, the greater purpose is revealed, and it starts to make more sense.  But it is touch and go.
  • For me, the bounds of the magic are just too loose.  This group of mercenaries have a bunch of wizards who can cast constant healing spells, and even bring people back to life with apparent ‘ease’.  I liken it to playing a computer game with invincibility cheats enabled – it’s funny for a moment, and then it gets boring.  Fortunately, Robert redeems himself when he introduces the concept of combat with gods.  Suddenly the scope of the magic is not so silly, but we need to know this earlier.
  • And then there’s Cyrus.  As characters go, he’s a bit magnolia, and what’s frustrating as a reader is that everything sort of just goes his way.  We should be interested in our main protagonist, but Cyrus is likeable (there’s nothing to dislike) without being overly interesting.
  • And that leads me to my final comment – the size of the cast.  It’s just too big.  I would struggle to keep tabs on that many people in real life.  In a novel?  I gave up with most of the names and just tried to make sure I kept tabs on the important ones.  It seemed to work for me.

All these are reasons that the book struggles to grip, earlier in particular, but ultimately, I am contented.  And, even though there are other books that will jump the queue, I will come back to this.  I want to find out, and that makes it a good story. And in the end, that’s all that matters.

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