Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Review - A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan

When young Caldan's parents are brutally slain, the boy is raised by monks who initiate him into the arcane mysteries of sorcery.

Growing up plagued by questions about his past, Caldan vows to discover who his parents were, and why they were violently killed. The search will take him beyond the walls of the monastery, into the unfamiliar and dangerous chaos of city life. With nothing to his name but a pair of mysterious heirlooms and a handful of coins, he must prove his talent to become apprenticed to a guild of sorcerers.

But the world outside the monastery is a darker place than he ever imagined, and his treasured sorcery has disturbing depths he does not fully understand. As a shadowed evil manipulates the unwary and forbidden powers are unleashed, Caldan is plunged into an age-old conflict that will bring the world to the edge of destruction.

Soon, he must choose a side, and face the true cost of uncovering his past.

I've had an itch that needed scratching for awhile now.

You see... I grew up loving big fat epic fantasy. 

No joke, I couldn't get enough. 

Tolkien, Williams, Eddings, Jordan, and Feist... all of them were consumed with a zeal and a love that took me on many an adventure. And then I stumbled upon Sara Douglass in my teenage years, and it was game over. A local author... writing epic fantasy... hell yes! I was hooked to the genre, bonded for life. I eagerly awaited every new release from Douglass, lining up at bookstores (the internet was still young people!) to purchase first editions as they pulled them from their boxes to put on the shelves. Epic Fantasy was on the rise here in Australia, and life was good. 

And then, it wasn't. 

Somewhere along the way big fat epic fantasy stumbled, and the rise of darker and edgier books such as the ASOIAF series, and the sudden growth of the YA market, saw big fat epic fantasy basically disappear in Australia by the time I had hit university. And that was ok, because I loved (and still do) the ASOIAF books.. and I enjoyed reading about the adventures of Harry Potter. And come on, who doesn't love Joe Abercrombie and his work?!? Fantasy was still chugging along and growing nicely, and there were new Australian authors appearing to satisfy my need for great local writers (Trudi Canavan, Karen Miller, and Kylie Chan spring to mind). But I still felt like something was missing. I yearned for a big fat epic fantasy that would sweep me away to another world. A book that would celebrate much loved tropes without being cliched and predictable. And a traditional story that took me on a journey filled with danger and adventure. 

And so I went looking for one. I scoured the shelves at the bookstores, and searched high and low for something to fill that hole. And then one day, whilst searching Amazon, I stumbled upon a self published book called A Crucible of Souls by a fellow called Mitchell Hogan. 'Nice title', I thought.. and clicked on the link. The book seemed to be gaining good feedback from people, and the blurb sounded intriguing, so I investigated further. Upon discovering he was Australian I quickly slammed the BUY NOW button and dove in, hoping for the best. 

I was not disappointed. 

A Crucible of Souls scratched that itch, and then some. 

And that brings me to today, with Harper Voyager's release of the paperback version of this book (Hogan was signed to HV last year following the success of his self published stories). And I must admit, I had some concerns. Would they fiddle with the story too much? Would characters and scenes that I loved be cut throughout their editing process? Would the story still be as good as it was when I first took that leap of faith in 2013? 

Well I am happy to report that it still rocks. And, in fact, it may just even be better this time around. 

A Crucible of Souls tells the story of Caldan, a young man whose parents were mysteriously slain years earlier by forces unknown. Raised by monks, and initiated into the arcane mysterious of sorcery and magic, Caldan eventually decides to learn more about his parents and why they were killed. Striking out from the monastery that has sheltered him for most of his life, Caldan is faced with dangers long thought buried, as the shadows of evil grow and circle around him, and the world teeters on the edge of destruction. 

(Got your epic fantasy feels working in overdrive yet?!? Good... read on!)

So what did I love about this book? EVERY-DAMN-THING!

Like I mentioned earlier, A Crucible of Souls scratched that itch that was bugging me for years on end. It features everything that I love about big fat epic fantasy. It has a central character who basically embarks on a 'Hero's Journey', an enthralling and incredibly amazing world that blew my brain sideways (I mean come on... magically enhanced golems people), and a unique and captivating magic system that frankly is among my favourites ever written (and I'm a Sanderson fan!). But it also goes even further. Hogan embraces what is truly great about traditional epic and sword and sorcery fantasy and its tropes and blends it with more modern elements to make it a fantastic read. The characterisation throughout the story, from Caldan right down to the lowliest peasant, is strong and full of agency and depth (yes you want to strangle Caldan at times for his idiocy.. but that was part of his charm I found). The battles, chases, and confrontations are all exciting, tense, and extremely well written, and the story and pace of the book fluid, fast, and dynamic. Just when you think Hogan will succumb to standard cliches he twists the plot and takes you along a different avenue. I ripped through this book all over again in a frenzy, and adored every minute of it. In fact, I think this version from Harper Voyager is an improvement (which is high praise indeed seeing as I adored the self published version) over its predecessor. The story itself feels a little tighter and quicker, and some of the padding has been cut out where it wasn't needed. And the maps... oh the maps! They were a wonderful inclusion at the start that added yet another layer to an already brilliantly described world. 

So did I notice anything that I didn't like? No, not really. If I had one small criticism it would be that I wanted to know a little more about the magic and its various orders, but that in itself is the tiniest complaint and probably me just being too picky seeing as it's the first novel in a series (you don't want all of your secrets revealed too quick!). 

A Crucible of Souls was my favourite book of 2013, and it deserved the Aurealis Award it received that year. This version is better, and it hits all the markers that epic fantasy and sword and sorcery fans want and crave. Hogan has weaved a truly sublime tale that acknowledges and embraces well loved tropes whilst also offering something new and fantastic. Not only has Hogan scratched that itch that was bugging me, he has in fact held me down and tattooed this book onto my soul. 

Australia's answer to Rothfuss and Sanderson, A Crucible of Souls is an absolute must read for old and new fans of the genre alike!

5 out of 5 stars (I would give it more if I could... I love it that much!)

A review copy was provided. 

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I'm sold. I was hesitant about nabbing an ARC of this, given that it was originally self-published, but you've convinced me - on the TBR pile it goes!