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Friday, November 15, 2013

Book Review: Champion in the Darkness

 Champion in the Darkness (The Champion Trilogy, #1)

Champion in the Darkness, a fantasy by Tyrean Martinson, was an excellent novel. Many elements stood out from your average fantasy; when I finished it, all I could think was, “Wow! Where’s the next book?”

The world is Aramatir, the kingdom is Septily. Fifteen-year-old Clara is the only child of her parents and they, like other believers, have a gift that they use in service to the kingdom: Clara is training to be a Sword Master, like her mother, and her father is a Shepherd. The third discipline or gift is Law-Giver. The three disciplines are taught at centers called Triune Halls. Clara and her parents’ lives in Skycliff, Septily’s capital, are whole; Clara is about to receive her Crystal Sword which means she is ready to become a Sword Master. But then Clara learns she is the Champion, a hero raised up at different times by the Lord to save the people of Aramatir during great tribulation. Almost immediately after that, the tribulation breaks forth in the form of a takeover of Skycliff by the army of Kalidess, an evil sorceress and pawn of Satan who desires ultimate power over Aramatir. Clara’s world falls apart and she hardly knows herself as she must put her training into practice, help lead those who escaped from Skycliff, and become the Champion God called her to be.

Epic fantasies don’t always give me thrills because I can’t always enter into their world; usually the problem is sketchiness and lack of originality. But Martinson’s world felt unique, well-drawn, and complete. Aramatir had a history and geography that was fairly easy to grasp, and the differences between the countries were intriguing and realistic. I think it could have benefited from a map and more description, but as it was I did get a clear picture of each place in my mind. Martinson put me there very effectively; one great method she used was not explaining a custom or action and therefore “assuming” that readers knew what it was, because obviously the characters knew. Like historical fiction, this makes readers believe that they are really in the place and time.

Another thing that some epic fantasies lack is character development. I love character-driven narratives, and that’s what Champion in the Darkness is. Almost every character – Clara; the Sword Masters Stelia, Salene, Dantor, and Prince William; the Aerlandian prince Adrian; the Septilian king Alexandros – had an arc and an important, interesting story all their own. The novel incorporates several points of view, mostly Clara and Stelia, but each view is clearly delineated.

The battle scenes and fight scenes were very well-described. I grew breathless every time one of the Sword Masters, such as Clara or Stelia, took part in a fight because I was watching it in my mind. Does the author run her own sword academy? She even got down to the way they trained! This brings up a point that perhaps more than any other aspect gave this book its grip on my mind: the issue of women fighting. The society was essentially androgynous; there were no assigned roles, and women as much as men took part in battles. I haven’t read many “Girl-Warrior” books, but the fact that no one balked at Clara, a female, being the Champion made gender a non-issue. Clara was very humble, knew she was a woman, and didn’t lord it over anyone, man or woman. It was not “I am Woman, hear me roar!” I like the idea of women being able to fight if they need to (I am a martial artist, after all), but I’m not entirely comfortable with the image of women-warriors in this book. There, I said it. If I had to give my conclusion, it would be: I liked that Clara (and the other women) could fight, but not to the extent that they did so. Contradictory? Maybe, but our feelings about issues like these sometimes are.

Something else that made this fantasy unique was its religion. It’s Christianity as we know it, albeit with some differences accounted for by custom, such as we see in the real world. The Septilians know the Scriptures, and the main characters have deep, true-to-life relationships with God and deal with tough issues, tougher than many of us will ever face. One thing that felt very realistic was how they see that the men in Kalidess’s army can repent and join the good side.

There are several other points I wish I had room for, but let me end with the ending. I found the ending to Champion in the Darkness to be perfect. There is closure, but it’s apparent there’s much more to be done to accomplish Aramatir’s freedom. It didn’t feel rushed or incomplete, and yet it set up the next book, promising a fresh story as Clara continues her journey as Champion. I will be looking for that second book!

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