Sunday, June 5, 2016

Review #3: The Princess and the Apprentice, by Roland Boykin

Published in late 2015, Roland Boykin's The Princess and the Apprentice is a tale of fantasy adventure, romance, mysterious magic, all written in a fairy-tale atmosphere that you could lean back and drink a pint of ale to.

Apprentice Mae Aldan has been summoned to the Kingdom of Westalia in order to aid the King and his Mage in defense against the invading King Romar and his army. Aldan is nervous for obvious reasons, but after certain events take hold he suddenly finds himself far thicker into matters than he had anticipated.

Charged with the protection of Princess Odessa, they and two guardsmen must traverse through woods and mountains, fighting against goblins and wraiths, an even conversing with an old dragon. Their objective is to arrive at the neighboring kingdom over the mountain and request aid, but it seems one obstacle after another impedes them every step of the way.

*~*~*~*~*

What works best for this story is that it's so different than what you mostly see in today's high fantasy scene. Grim and bloody seem to be the key ingredient to today's fantasy. That isn't bad in and of itself, but when is it too much? The change of pace was enjoyable. I am happy that fantasy continues to be a popular genre, but I feel at times this so-called "grimdark" sub-genre is leaving quality writing behind in favor of violence and brutality for the sake of violence and brutality; shock value, in other words. Unfortunately shock value sells. Fortunately, Boykin's tale takes the reader back to the fairy-tale atmosphere. 

The writing itself, however, does leave some to be desired. Most of the characters come off as 2D, and the only well-rounded character doesn't last long enough to truly make an impact on the story. I will say this, though: for as wooden as I found the characters, they at least went under change. They didn't simply wander through the story from the first chapter to the last chapter without going through their own individual transformations, and I think there is something wonderful to be said about that. I only wish they had been more unique, their own selves. There were too many character tropes for me to get past. 

Another issue was the massive amount of deus ex machina. Everything was more or less handed to the protagonists. Sure, they performed their own actions, but in order to make those actions they were magically granted the ability to do so. This is the problem with magic in stories, after all. It is a wondrous thing, but when it becomes an overpowered source of means for the characters to achieve what they want? Every time an obstacle appeared the means to get past it was essentially given to them.

The scene-by-scene plot itself was riddled with deus ex machina as well. Things would happen and characters would assume positions on things that had never even been discussed. For example, in one scene the group happens upon a cottage and eventually discuss with its inhabitants the bandits they will have to fight down the road, but these bandits were never mentioned before and therefore the protagonists should have no idea they're even there. But somehow they do, without obtaining the knowledge. They just... do. 

There are many fantasy tropes in this story. An ancient, all-knowing dragon, sage ghosts, mysterious magic tomes, a shy mage who finds his confidence through a means of discovering power, an antagonist who wants said power for himself... It was difficult to get through.

I still recommend you give this story a try. Another good thing is that it doesn't try to take itself too seriously. It is a lighthearted story of fantasy with characters who, wooden or not, do truly care for each other and do the best in seemingly impossibly bad situation. You can purchase the book HERE.


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