BETTER TO PRESERVE LIFE, THAN DESTROY IT
A YOUNG WOMAN IS THRUST TO THE FOREFRONT OF A STRUGGLE TO SAVE AN ISLAND AND END THE PERSECUTION OF HER PEOPLE
The Lost Sentinel
(Silent Sea Chronicles, Book 1)
Genre: High Fantasy
Publisher: Suzanne Rogerson
Format: Paperback, 364 Pages
Date: 15st June 2017
An advance copy of this title was kindly provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced the content of the review, or the opinions expressed therein.
Would the mention of people being hoodwinked into acting against their own interests by an unscrupulous political leader, exploiting their ignorance and prejudice to persuade them to scapegoat a minority group for all their problems, cause you to think of real world events? It probably would; as would the plight of refugees; as would hardships brought about by environmental issues. In this respect, The Lost Sentinel (book 1 of a new fantasy trilogy) by Suzanne Rogerson, is a very topical novel given that theses themes very apparently served as inspiration for the story, and are central to its plot.
The principal setting for this first book of the Silent Sea Chronicles is the island nation of Kalaya. It is a land imbued with magic, connecting it inextricably to the islands minority population of mystics who are able to use this magic. But Kalaya’s magic has been diminishing, bringing with it hardships such as the failing of crops. This state of affairs has resulted in antagonistic feelings towards the mystics by Kalaya’s majority, non-magical inhabitants, provoked largely by the ruling body called the Assembly that has enthusiastically scapegoated all the island’s mystics.
In their ignorance, the people have embraced the persecution of the mystics and their protectors, eventually driving most of them into exile in the mountains, little realising that the well-being of the island is directly linked to the well-being of the mystic population in general, and their leader known as The Sentinel, in particular.
It is against this backdrop readers are introduced to the book’s heroine Tei, a young mystic raised since birth by her single father, Migil, who has always taught her to conceal her magic. The story begins in earnest when Tei finds her world turned upside down in the wake of a mysterious stranger visiting her father. Subsequent to the visit, Migil insists that it is no longer safe for them to remain in Seatown, and that he and Tei must leave their old life behind to join The Exiles living in the Turrak mountains.
Unsurprisingly, the journey isn’t quite that simple; there are forces at work intent on preventing them from reaching their destination, embodied by a shadowy group of hunters known as the Masked Riders. Unbeknown to Tei, she has a destiny to fulfil that will have a major bearing on the future of Kalaya; a destiny brought into sharp focus by a shocking revelation made in the aftermath of a deadly attack.
It would be easy to assume that The Lost Sentinel is yet another cliché fantasy tale of an orphaned “chosen one” who is destined to save the day. Initially, that certainly seems to be the case; and it’s actually not too far from the truth, as it happens. However, Tei isn’t technically the chosen one of the tale, although she does have a key role to play in helping The Exiles to locate the book’s titular character (who must be found in order to succeed the aged and dying current Sentinel) before they can be hunted down by those working for the nefarious leader of the Assembly, Rathnor, who clearly has a hidden agenda for wanting to wipe out the mystics of Kalaya.
As is often the case in fantasy, the utilisation of any well-worn trope can make a story easy to predict. In that regard, it’s fair to say that The Lost Sentinel progresses in a rather predictable fashion. The one genuine surprise is Rogerson’s willingness to kill off her characters; not even prominent, main characters are safe. But that being said, it’s still an open question as to how much readers will care about the demise of these individuals. Though it can be taken for granted that most readers will be sad at the passing of the more likeable characters, there remains a distinct possibility that at least some readers will feel as though they didn’t have the opportunity to get to know these characters well enough to be affected by their untimely deaths.
The book’s narrative moves at a consistently rapid rate, which is actually to its detriment at times; this is especially true during the early chapters. This pacing issue would probably have been less pronounced if the story was told exclusively from the viewpoint of a single character. As it is, the story is told from multiple points-of-view, so during the opening few chapters the all too frequent shifting of POV results in the introduction of a new character before enough time has been devoted to fully establishing the previous character. A slower start to the story would have helped to mitigate this issue by allowing the assorted POV characters to be introduced at a more gradual pace, and increasing the amount of time given to readers to get to know them. (A reduction in the number of viewpoint characters could also have helped without harming the narrative.)
It’s probably worth mentioning the one viewpoint character who really stands out from the rest, not necessarily because he is the most interesting, but because he is at the centre of a secondary storyline that, though connected to the main plot, feels very tangential to it. Farrell is the commander of the naval fleet of a refugee population living on a harsh, barren island, called Stone Haven, who unwittingly finds himself embroiled in a conspiracy to instigate war against the mystics of Kalaya, after being contacted by a mysterious telepathic voice. Due to how disconnected this storyline feels from the events taking place on Kalaya, it would have been better for the book, structurally, if this sub-plot unfolded in chapters dedicated solely to it. Unfortunately, though this storyline is a compelling one, the decision to have Commander Farrell’s scenes regularly interspersed with those of characters on Kalaya, within the same chapters, occasionally makes those scenes feel like interruptions.
The aforementioned gripes are, admittedly, subjective and will not likely resonate with readers who favour fast moving, action-packed narratives. More detail oriented readers, however, would probably be happier if some of the pace and action was sacrificed for the sake of deeper characterisation, and more immersive world building. An increased focus on the core characters, in particular, may have provided longer character moments that could have given readers further insights into various individuals, in terms of personality, motivations and backstory. As it is, the swift narrative means readers won’t really get to know the characters as well as could have been the case. On the whole, the main characters feel more like casual, passing acquaintances rather than close, intimate companions.
The rapid pace also impacts the believability of certain aspects of the book’s character dynamics and relationships. Because it is easy to lose sight of how much time has actually elapsed, in story, over the course of a brief number of pages, it is easy to forget how long characters have known each other for. Consequently, readers can be forgiven for being confused by just how upset Tei is about the death of a character she first met, seemingly, no more than two dozen pages earlier; though a reminder that a few months have passed during those pages makes it more understandable. However, even taking the passage of time into account, the various romantic entanglements that occur are much harder to reason. It just doesn’t ring true for characters to fall in love with people they barely know (in Tei’s case, with someone she hasn’t actually met yet), not to mention how strange it seems when a character is lusting after somebody, one moment, only to be rolling around beneath the sheets with someone else shortly after this person’s death.
(At this point it’s only fair to make clear that, for personal reasons, I invariably find almost all depictions of romance in works of fiction unbelievable, so I’m probably not the best judge. In this case, the above criticism can probably be ignored by readers who are able to appreciate depictions of romance in the books they read.)
Having initially been attracted to the book due to its similarity to Glenda Larke’s, The Last Stormlord, at least in terms of the basic premise, it has to be said that any similarities between the two books ends there. The Lost Sentinel lacks the more sophisticated political intrigue found in Larke’s tale; nor does it possess the intricate world building that characterises her book, though this is obviously an unfair comparison as very few novels have settings realised in such great detail and originality as that which graces Larke’s work. But it is certainly the case that readers who are drawn to deep and rich world building will probably find Rogerson’s setting a little too shallow for their tastes. That being said, one of the highlights of the book does come from the author’s world building; it takes the form of an alternate plane of existence that Kalaya’s mystics can reach while in a trance like state, allowing their souls to leave their bodies to enter the Astral Plane. Rogerson’s depiction of the Astral Plane, and the events that take place within it, is actually very cool.
All in all, The Lost Sentinel is an enjoyable read with the requisite qualities that will see it find favour among the young adult fantasy audience. It might not be appreciated to the same extent by people outside that readership, some of whom may feel that the book lacks the necessary depth and sophistication in its writing to be quite as rewarding a read. This shouldn’t be interpreted as The Lost Sentinel being poorly written, because it isn’t. Rogerson’s writing style is clear and concise, making her prose very effective at conveying a story; all it really lacks is the literary finesse inherent in the writing of veteran, established authors of the calibre of Jacqueline Carey, Guy Gavriel Kay or Lois McMaster Bujold. Nonetheless, in spite of its limitations, The Lost Sentinel succeeds in doing what every first book of a trilogy needs to do; be good enough to entice readers into wanting to read the next instalment.
Before concluding this review, it’s probably worth addressing an issue that is frequently held against books by indie authors. Self-published works have a reputation for being poorly crafted, woefully written, devoid of adequate editing, and generally being in an unfit state to warrant being published. This reputation is not completely unjustified as such books are very easy to come across. But prospective readers of The Lost Sentinel can rest easy in the knowledge that it isn’t one of these novels. While you will probably spot the odd typo, here and there, it won’t be significantly more than you would expect to encounter in a traditionally published book. You might also stumble upon the occasional awkwardly worded or structured sentence, but nothing sufficient to detract from the reading experience.
In conclusion, The Lost Sentinel is an action-packed tale that makes good use of some interesting, topical themes, making it well worth a read. It also provides more than adequate evidence of Rogerson’s storytelling chops. If she can build upon this in future by finding a more harmonious balance of plot progression, character development, and world building, then coupling it with stronger writing, there is no reason why she cannot eventually become yet another self-published fantasy success story alongside an author like Michael J. Sullivan.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.