Random House Double – Kept and The Bloodfire Quest [Shadowhawk]

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Shadowhawk reviews two of the latest novels from Random House/Del Rey – the second Coveted novel Kept by Shawntelle Madison and the second Dark Legacy of Shannara novel The Bloodfire Quest by Terry Brooks.

On Kept: “A thoroughly engaging and flawed novel that failed on a very interesting premise.” ~The Founding Fields

On The Bloodfire Quest: “Mostly a rehash of The Elfstones of Shannara, the new novel has occasional flashes of brilliance but little else.” ~The Founding Fields

Due to some pending commitments elsewhere, somewhat of a general writing burn-out and watching a fair bit of movies over the weekend, I’m a little behind my reviewing schedule. Hence the reason why I’m doing a double review here. It is all the more fitting since both these books are the second entries in their respective series, I haven’t read either of the first books, and they are both published by Random House/Del Rey Books. Also, I read these books back to back and my feelings towards both are pretty much the same: they failed to impress me at all.

First, Kept by Shawntelle Madison. The premise of the novel sounds quite interesting, not to mention that a female werewolf character with OCD who attends group therapy with a downright crackpot support group is a winning idea. Or at least, that’s what I thought. You see, the promise inherent in the novel’s premise is about the only good thing about this book. Natalya Stravinsky would have made for an excellent protagonist, if her “whip-smart nature” and “lovable neurotic streak” hadn’t been played up to be utter jokes. To date, I’ve never read a more conflicted heroine who lacks any and all self-confidence and just goes with the flow. Throw in a complicated and often pointless romance angle and any enjoyment that there may have been in the narrative is completely lost.

The thing is that Natalya fails to stand up on her own, and she always needs help from her friends, her family and even her former lover. I don’t really hold any particular views about feminism or the power of a female protagonist. All I want from a book is that it represents its characters well, that it treats them with at least a modicum of respect and that the characters don’t devolve into clichés that are spread thick in the genre, whether it be science fiction or fantasy or any other specific genre/subgenre. In Kept, that is the expectation that completely fails. The character that is promised from the premise is not the character that is in the novel, because she needs to be propped up by others; her neuroticism and OCD prevent her from standing up to any of her enemies on her own.

Another thing, and this might be a spoiler of sorts although I don’t think it is, is the fact that Natalya never changes into her werewolf form until almost till the climax of the novel, which in itself is very anti-climactic and little more than a footnote for the entire narrative. If you have a werewolf character, then you should actively show off the supernatural aspect of your character. This was something that Amanda Carlson got right in her debut Full Blooded, but where Shawntelle Madison has failed in her second novel. I haven’t read the first novel as I said, so I can’t comment on things were in that book, but in Kept this is a very big let down, about on par with my previous issue.

The supporting cast has some gems in it, like the mermaid, the white wizard who is also a romantic interest, the therapist, and the Muse, but most of the characters are just there for the sake of it. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. None of them made an impression at all. Combined with the rollick-y nature of the narrative and the poor pacing and constant location-jumping, Kept failed for me on a whole lot of novels. It is most definitely not the kind of urban fantasy novel with werewolves that I enjoy reading, despite the fact that I’m not that well-read in the genre at all. It is not a novel for me, and I cannot recommend it in spite of that since I found to be a mostly poorly written novel.

Rating: 3/10

Second, The Bloodfire Quest by Terry Brooks. I’ve read three novels in the Shannara setting to date, in addition to this one: Sword, Elfstones and another novel I can’t remember the name of, but it is the one with Allanon’s adoptive Druid father and Jerle Shannara and the forging of the fabled sword. Of the three, I consider Elfstones of Shannara to be the best in the entire series, with the “prequel” novel being a decent second, and Sword of Shannara to be the poorer one, given the heavy allusions to Dragonlance Chronicles and Lord of the Rings, plus the rather trope-ridden narrative.

Unfortunately, The Bloodfire Quest is the same. In fact, I saw it as nothing more than a rehash of the events of Elfstones, because, once again the Ellcrys is dying and needs to be reborn, once again nobody knows where Bloodfire Mountain is, once again the Druid has to go to Paranor to learn of its location, and once again the Elf chosen to receive the Ellcrys’ seed and perform the journey of traveling to Bloodfire and returning is a reluctant and often petulant character. There is little originality in the narrative, as far as I can tell.

I know that I’m quite disadvantaged by the fact that I’m entering the series in the middle and therefore lack all of the setup that came in the first book. Therefore, my perceptions of the novel may not be all that accurate. However, that could have been mitigated if the narrative was actually interesting, and if the characters had been far more enjoyable. Neither of those things happened, as it turned out.

The characters often felt like they were just going through the motions. For the lack of a better word, they were all mostly wooden with little in the way of distinctive personalities. This was exacerbated by the fact that the novel has a huge cast of characters and therefore many of them get very little actual page-time. The Ard Rhys of the Druid order, Khyber Elessedil, and Railing Ohmsford were two of the most interesting characters in the novel, and yet we see very little of them. Khyber gets a very brief moment to shine but I would say that it was too little and too late. This highlighted another problem in the novel, that the characters were almost always reactionary, they responded to events around them, rather than being active participants. It is sort of a grey area, I’ll grant, since both things happen in any novel, but I found the balance to be rather skewed. Motivational uncertainties in many of the characters, such as Arlingfant Elessedil (the Chosen character in question), made the novel that much more frustrating.

Another point against the novel, related to the huge character cast, is that the pacing is all over the place. The constant shifts in perspective and location mean that there is no consistency in author tone. One moment the characters are fighting a desperate airship battle. In the next moment, another set of characters are planning an ill-advised expedition. Scenes with dispute between the good guys are juxtaposed with scenes in which the bad guys are planning bloody murder. And everything happens to be this big coincidence drawing it all together into the loose semblance of a plot.

Suffice to say, The Bloodfire Quest was most definitely not a good experience at all. I mentioned up top that the novel has occasional flashes of brilliance. What I meant by that was that the only positive things in the novel were three of the characters: the assassin Stoon, Khyber Elessedil and Railing Ohmsford. Rest were all one disappointment after another. The airship battle in the climax was another positive aspect, but we don’t really see it in much detail.

Overall, this is not a novel I’d recommend.

Rating: 2/10

Now, some people will ask the question: “why did you keep reading if these novels were so dull, boring, and generally bad? Don’t you have a 60-page rule or something?”

The answer is, that the year has just started. And these two novels are among my first reads. I really did not want to start the year by having an “abandoned reading” list up on my blog. To be honest, it’s rather depressing to have to do that. Another reason I kept going was that I expected the novels to get better, especially The Bloodfire Quest since it’s a Shannara novel. The final reason, when applies to Kept, is that I want to read more in the urban fantasy genre and I can’t do that if I stop reading the novels mid-way. You have to know what type of novels are being written in a genre to be able to know what would appeal to you. Or something like that. It sounds better in my head anyway.

I will be doing another double review like this soon, for two more books by Random House/Del Rey – for G.T. Almasi’s second Shadowstorm novel Hammer of Angels and for Liesel Schwarz’s A Conspiracy of Alchemists which I’m reading right now and am really enjoying.

Shadowhawk is a regular contributor to TFF. A resident of Dubai, Shadowhawk reads, reads and reads. His opinions are always clear and concise. His articles always worth reading.

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  • Bill Finch

    Try starting from the beginning of the series with Shannara… It will grip you more and make more sense… Also, the similarities to Dragonlance Chronicles that you mention are actually the other way around, considering that The Sword of Shannara was published in 1977, while Dragonlance was first published in 1987… Terry Brooks has never denied that he was heavily influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien, but the concept of the Hero’s Quest Archetype predates both of them by about 5,000 years, and is the basis for every great epic tale…