Stranger's Descent by Tony Barrett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Stranger's Descent(Chronicles of the Return Book1) by Tony Barrett
This is a great size novel for a debut novel and I might be able to qualify that a bit more once I understand what genre to place it into. I give it high marks for keeping my interest and making me work to search out the least bit of redeemable traits that might be evident in the main characters. If you're looking for something in a light read this could almost qualify if it weren't such a dark world. It has the feel of the wild west except that it has magic, witches, warlocks, Were-beasts, and zeppelins. If you love dystopic tales this could easily fall into that catagory. And with the zeppelins and were-beasts it might fall in the category of steam punk, but only narrowly. I'm almost inclined to give it a new tag; maybe cowboy-punk [Don't quote me on that].
The characters are all quite dark and it is difficult to really find any that I could empathize with. In some respects this brought to mind the DeathStalker series of Simon R. Green. I had trouble empathizing with most of the characters in Deathstalker. But where Deathstalker often veers into the gritty and the fantastic Stranger's Descent is gritty with a bit more realism. It's this element of Gritty Dark Realism that colors the first part making it a difficult read for me. It took about one third of the way into the novel before I began to syncronize with Tony Barretts dismal pace to where I could really begin to enjoy the story. A person really has to carefully read this to see what I mean because this might be related to my own preferences.
There are a multitude of well drawn characters and for the most part they are distinct from each other and yet there is some bit of the darkness of the story that drags them all down to the same level until they begin to look a lot the same [variations on a theme]. By this I mean that we have the Stranger who obviously has a rather mysterious past [even though it has all been dramatized in dime fiction] and despite his own misgivings toward things magic he has gotten involved with magic and one specific wizard. Later he makes use of the connection to that magic to get himself out of the corner he manages to paint himself into. We have Jerrod and Perin who seem to be two young men with some bits of idealistic notions about soldiers and yet they work for a General who is a madman bent on the destruction of all around him and often find themselves at odds with what they are ordered to do. Misandry and Harkon are witch and wizard and work for 'the master' supposedly working toward the return but each would just as easily tear out the others eyes than to be in a partnership and they both seem to have their own agenda. And in the end it's difficult to tell exactly what their master might be working at and, if they knew, whether they would continue to work with him. There are more. The point is they all are complex characters[all seemingly molded by the worst this world has to offer] and they are many but thankfully they are not difficult to keep up with.
If there is any problem at all in the characters it's a result of the darkness that is cast across the world; that manages to drag all of the characters to their deepest weakest point and for me that made it difficult to empathise with anyone. Life is cheap in this novel and all the characters seem to hold to this philosophy and that tends to make them self centered. This world has an evil to it that brings out the worst in every character. If the character of Wyn had been a bit stronger he might have been able to redeem the plot more than the hints and inuendo about things yet to be explained that eventually gave me the feeling there was a much greater depth to everything that Tony Barrett will be revealing in future parts to this story.
Over all though the writting is solid and the author has taken some time to try to make the reading experience better than the average non-traditional author. One caveat here being that though there are still less than a handful of errors, they are errors that stand out enough that they will be hard not to notice. The story is well paced except the portion that makes this a dystopic tale which carries on relentless throughout the entire novel with no other pace beyond utterly gritty and depressing all the time.
This is great for those who love the epic fantasy such as Deathstalker and especially for those who key into the darker grittier pieces of those worlds.
Good SFF with moderate use of science and more for the magic aficionado.
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