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Thursday, August 10, 2017

SPFBO Semi-Finalist:The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order The Crimson Queen HERE


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alec Hutson was born in the north-eastern part of the United States and from an early age was inculcated with a love of reading fantasy. He was the Spirit Award winner for Carleton College at the 2002 Ultimate Frisbee College National Championships. He has watched the sun set over the dead city of Bagan and rise over the living ruins of Angkor Wat. He grew up in a geodesic dome and a bookstore, and currently lives in Shanghai, China.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Long ago the world fell into twilight, when the great empires of old consumed each other in sorcerous cataclysms. In the south the Star Towers fell, swallowed by the sea, while the black glaciers descended upon the northern holdfasts, entombing the cities of Min-Ceruth in ice and sorcery. Then from the ancient empire of Menekar the paladins of Ama came, putting every surviving sorcerer to the sword and cleansing their taint from the land for the radiant glory of their lord.

The pulse of magic slowed, fading like the heartbeat of a dying man.

But after a thousand years it has begun to quicken again.

In a small fishing village a boy with strange powers comes of age...

A young queen rises in the west, fanning the long-smoldering embers of magic into a blaze once more...

Something of great importance is stolen - or freed - from the mysterious Empire of Swords and Flowers...

And the immortals who survived the ancient cataclysms bestir themselves, casting about for why the world is suddenly changing...

CLASSIFICATION: The Crimson Queen showcases the best of Robert Jordan’s worldbuilding skiils, laced with Terry Brooks’ fluid characterization and topped off with a pinch of David Gemmell’s heroic fantasy escapades.

FORMAT/INFO: The Crimson Queen is 422 pages long divided over forty-three POV titled chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Keilan Ferrisorn, Janus Balensor, Alyanna, Holy emperor Gerixes, Xin, Senacus, Wen Xenxing the black vizier, and Cein d’Kara. This is the first volume of the Raveling series.

December 3, 2016 marked the e-book & paperback publication of The Crimson Queen and it will be self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by Jeff Brown.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Crimson Queen by Alec Hutson is at first appearance a book that might cause your eyes to glaze over it. Its cover has an unusual shade of yellow in its background along with a generic appearance of an old city. That however would be your first mistake. This book since its release in late 2016 has been slowly making waves and was slotted in to the 30 books afforded to us. Of the first batch of books that I read, it was the best and hence was our first semi-finalist.

The story blurb again talks of an old cataclysm which shaped in the world into what it is currently. The main story opens in a very Wheel Of Time fashion with the prologue showcasing someone or something that is old, possibly immortal and talking of events that will change the world. The story then opens us by showcasing the life of Keilan Ferrisorn who lives in a small fishing village and has a sorrowful past that impedes his village life. Janus Balensorn is a person who we quickly learn has more to him than just a honeyed voice and an arresting manner. Senacus is a paladin of Ama and one of the Pure, a sect of Templar-like knights who have powers and seek to stamp out magic. Senacus’ path brings him in conflict with certain wielders of magic and his path to Ama will be sorely tested. There are a few more characters but that’s the gist of the protagonists who power the main plot threads.

The book has a strong mystery to almost every aspect of it. Firstly there’s the mystery of the world itself which is mentioned in the blurb. Secondly there’s the two characters Keilan and Jan (as he refers to himself constantly). Both these characters have mysterious tragedies in their past which fuel their behavior and there’s also the titular character who’s as slippery as they come. In fact the author builds up her mystique by not introducing her until the last quarter but at the same time we are constantly hearing about her exploits and her fame. Then there’s the other characters in the book who take on POV roles and are as intriguing as our two main protagonists. Even though it’s his debut, Alec Hutson has managed to write some solid characters. Sure they stick to fantasy tropes (orphan village boy, unknown traveler, and deadly warrior) but he writes them with a fresh perspective and make sure that they don’t seemed jaded. Case in point the book’s main protagonist (at least by POV chapter count) Keilan who is a half-orphan and pretty soon discovers how ignorance plays out among the scared rural populace. While this seems very generic in the fantasy landscape, Alec Huston has imbued enough freshness in to Keilan that you want to root for him and get invested in his past.

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Alec has a real solid knack for writing engaging characters. Be they villains, heroes, or merely misguided ones, nearly all the folks we meet are fully formed personas who act and behave with their own agendas in mind. The book also has female POV characters and in fact they are the real mysteries of the story. One of them is the titular character and the other one, well you’ll have to read the book to know more about her. I must point out that at this point I’m very, very curious to know more about Cein d’Kara the noted Crimson Queen. Plus kudos to the author for presenting her  as a multi-faceted person who depending on which angle you view her from,  can be a tyrant or a savior or both. So very much like Dany if she had already conquered Westeros and now was eying Essos & Southros.

What I also thoroughly enjoyed about this book was the way the author introduced the world. There’s a solid mystery afoot about what happened over a millennia ago and how it has impacted the world that we are currently introduced to. The world map showcases the different regions and most fantasy readers will be easily be able to recognize the real-world facsimiles. Plus the author makes sure to slowly unveil aspects of the world and there are no big infodumps that threaten to derail the plot or the pace of the book. The story also visits quite a few locations listed in the map and while that seems very trope-ish, it doesn’t feel forced at all. The author also mentioned in his interview with us (to be posted tomorrow) about where he got his influences from but the world he creates is his own with touches of our world here and there.

In our current atmosphere of solidly grimdark books, this fantasy debut takes route less soiled. Alec Hutson’s world isn’t necessarily grim but neither is it a bed of roses. He doesn’t really take the gritty route but manages more of a traditional heroic fantasy route. This works to his favor as I believe writing a grimdark story just for the heck of it, would certainly fall flat. Here I believe the author set to write a fantasy story more in line with the late 80s & 90s fantasy titles which were epic in content, but not grimdark as the current trend is. I can’t exactly say that Alec Hutson’s writing is like certain author X or writer Y but what I can surmise is that he brings to the table certain elegant qualities.

Imagine the best of Robert Jordan’s worldbuilding skiils, laced with Terry Brooks’ fluid characterization and topped off with a pinch of David Gemmell’s heroic fantasy escapades. Then you get an indication of the fun that awaits when you crack open The Crimson Queen. I’m sure Alec Hutson might disagree with my estimation but honestly it’s very clear that he’s his own writer and wants to write a certain kind of story. Were there any drawbacks to this story, yes there are some flaws. Plot wise this story doesn’t offer anything new that fantasy readers haven’t seen so far. The author incorporates lots of fantasy tropes and that might be a turn off for certain readers. One can even make a premise that the book’s pace falters a bit in the middle but it’s only a mild stumble and then picks up the pace as it hurtles towards its conclusion. Another point might be that there’s a lot of unexplained things introduced but since this book one of the Raveling series, I can’t really hold the author to that.

CONCLUSION: Alec Hutson's The Crimson Queen is a rare indie gem, sure nowadays we are unearthing more and more of them than say 4-5 years ago but it doesn’t take any sheen off the efforts that have gone into completing this one. The Crimson Queen is a fantasy debut that will have the reader rooting for its main characters, enjoying the plot mysteries and wanting the next book desperately. That is a hallmark of a true winner and I don’t think there’much more to say beyond that.

1 comments:

Adam W. said...

Awesome review. I read this last winter and have been eagerly awaiting the next volume. I really enjoyed the explanation of how the world was shaped by religious wars, which draws a few parallels with our own society.

Alec just released a book of short stories, with a couple set in the world of the Crimson Queen. Worth checking out.

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