Wednesday, 19 March 2014

The Snake and the Fox-- Volume 1, The SomnAgent Series
Author: Erik Nelson
Genre: Fantasy, Adult, Young Adult
Book Rating: 9
Personal Rating: 8.3

This book was a very clever and entertaining read.  The plot is well thought out.  The characters are interesting, the scenes are described well enough that I have a good visual of my surroundings, and it flows at a fairly decent pace.  This is a book that reads as any good fantasy should read.   

The opening was good, albeit a teeny bit cliche.  Mother sacrificing herself for her child.  But it was done well.  I didn't feel too disappointed that I knew what was going to happen long before it happened.  The story follows Slider, the boy child, as he becomes an adult, and then a rather accomplished assassin on a mission to destroy the king.  What I liked about this is that instead of him getting rescued after his mothers death and living your typical well rounded life, or the being forced to live of the land as a wild youth with no home or family, he got rescued and then was deserted by his mentor.  This is what sends him off in search of him and thus begins the journey to assassin extraordinaire.  Slider, unfortunately for me, was your typical, jaded, I lock out the world because of my early childhood trauma, protagonist.  He bugged me the most but as a whole, he was interesting enough to not hate.  The other characters are what really sell the book.

Fippa, is short, funny, and just pure genius wrapped into one.  He is Slider's first real friend.  What I love about him is that he appears to be your typical living on his wits kind of character, but his story and ultimate end in the book has the best character arch.  If character growth is prevalent anywhere in this novel it's best seen in Fippa.  And I like the roll that he plays with Slider and his obvious amusement at sliders ignorance to most things, indeed almost everything.

There's a host of other equally appealing cast that do the book justice.  No dry characters floating in this novel.  Each purpose clearly defined, each flaw prevalent, and their connection to each other makes this an exceptional character piece.

The plot moves along well in most spots.  After a rather exciting opening, we are treated to a very brief telling of how Slider is raised by the man who found him withering away inside a cave.  Teenaged Slider goes of into the main city in search of him and then enters Fippa a few years after.  So far so good, not being bogged down with pages and pages and pages of unending detail that's just straight snoresville.  Each thing metioned was needed, and it hit just the right amount of time before it moved along.  Perfect for my liking.  We find out about the 'destroy the king' plot and don't spend days trying to sort things out, the story moves towards it's goal smoothly.  Not too fast and not too slow.

Then there's the character in the palace who gets a few pages here and there.  He's not the king, but clearly wants to be king.  Who is this man.  The snippets he gets are just enough to build up the intrigue and keep you on edge for more, while not pissing you of too much.  The side characters give us information about such things as the thieving guilds, who play a major roll in the book, in an organic way.  For example, information about the Rat guild is given while Fippa, Slider, and two other people they picked up during the journey, are actually travelling through the Rat tunnels guided by a member of the guild.  So although information is given it's while they are being leaded to the next point in the plot, instead of being shoved at the reader during the narrative.  Lots of plot moving devices are handled in such a manor.

Now this is where it gets interesting.  Lots of secrets are revealed, after getting to the palace to kill the king, and then the book seems to do a bit of a 45 degree shift.  We find out the identity of the mystery man in the palace, more about Fippa and a teeny slice (handled rather brilliantly of one of the four assassins named Pit) and the whole arch of going to kill the king is rounded up very well in a good and excited pace.  Then off into, what appears to be, another story.  Another arch.  This is the middle of the book after all.  This entire second part of the book, was a little slow in some points, but over all was just as, if not more brilliant than the first.  So why am I a little miffed about it.  Especially since this was the half of the book that sucked me into an all night read.  A work of art.  It just didn't connect.

My problem is that after the big reveal, plot spoiler the mystery guy set them up, but I knew that long before it was revealed as it was told to us.  Still, after all of that at the end of the first half, he was completely dropped.  After successfully having the king killed, and then setting up the murderers, I had the hardest time thinking that he wouldn't check in to see if the rat guild, (very interesting rules they have which put three, minus the one guy who disappeared, of the assassins up for murder) had actually murdered the framed killers.  Not one more snippet of him.  Even after he assumed rule of the kingdom.  And I was looking for him to find ways to sneak in and secretly micromanage their demise.  After such a brilliant set up why leave the fate of part of your plan unchecked.  Where's the follow up.  And how do you assume becoming king and nothing of the secret, and dastardly things you have to employ to cement your reign?  Being such an ingenuously crafted villain It just didn't make sense to me on any level that he left their fate to chance.  For over 200 pages.

Then there's Slider.  My major gripe with him is his complete and total lack of the understanding of other humans.  Assassins dark brooding and anti social, yes. Assassins always sizing up their surroundings, yes.  I get it, but any good killer has a certain well of knowledge on the human brain and how it works.  Can perceive and detect human actions and behaviours even if they can't emulate them.  And usually blends into a crowd the same way they blend into the dark.  I couldn't wrap my head around after living in the city for so long on his own, before meeting Fippa, that even by chance of overhearing he didn't pick up on things like magic, and the comings and goings of things around his area.  An assassin is usually more than over informed so that they are more than equipped for whatever task they are given.  His insistent need to not know anything just didn't add up. And I always felt he was ill equipped for what he needed to do.  Indeed I was worried he might not even succeed in killing the king even with three helpers.  But the mystery man garnered much more of my faith than Slider.  As did the ever silent Pit, the brilliant yet secretive Fippa, and the fourth companion who's name I can't remember.  She had mystery, intrigue, had somewhere to go and we still don't know why she is cursed.  Pit is actually the most important character and the one we know the least about--very interesting.  Fippa.  The amount of detail woven into his character is ridiculous, from his past to the future, I'm dying to read about him in the new book.  And then you have Slider.

His mother sacrificed himself for him so he shuts down to the entire world.  Which is odd, because he actually opened up, after a while, to his rescuer so his fear of trusting people seems unfounded.  His trust hadn't been betrayed by enough people to form such an opinion of distrust or better yet disinterest.  If anything he should hate dragons.  His mother didn't betray his trust she got eaten.  Entirely different.  His rescuer left him so Slider would grow up and leave his shack and enter the real world.  With no real signs of him putting his trust into people, and them taking it away, this obsession he has with not liking the world that has yet to betray him, in general seemed a bit of a stretch.  Especially since he did learn to trust Fippa who was an excellent friend.  And his manager.  Now if Fippa betrayed him this attitude Slider has towards people would make logical sense.  

I guess I just couldn't buy that any successful killer would be so intentionally unlearned in the comings and goings of the realm, from the people in it's cities to the use of magic, which is why Fippa says more than once and justly so, 'you really don't know anything'.  Indeed Slider appears to be the only one in the book who doesn't know anything about anything.  It's just odd.

So the apparent lack of the 'mystery man from the palace' in the second half of book, and Sliders annoying need to never want to learn or know anything about the world itself, really bugged me.  Neither made sense, and the latter, if Slider was so insistent on proving himself the best, he should know, (as the Rat guild is very good at), that knowledge of how to kill and destroy is equally as important as the knowledge of what you kill and destroy.  

That aside, I'm avoiding picking at Fippa because I love him too much.  And I'd reveal way too much plot if I start talking about him.  Because oddly enough, as one character in the second half states, he sits on the position to set things in motion.  And he maintains that position through the entire novel.  Almost everything that happens is a result of his past, his present, and how he chooses to act on his perilous situations.  I will say that he came out on top in the end.  And I actually had to talk the ending out loud to a friend to really see how brilliantly the part Fippa played was executed.  Just pure genius for someone who likes a little bit of clever planning and outsmarting of people who think they are smarter than you in his books.  The more I read the book the more it became apparent that he was actually holding the reigns. Indeed the whole second half, which was awesome, circled around some very very clever and intricate writing of the author concerning him.  

The cleverness of the entire second act of this book was like brain crack for me.  I lost a whole day reading this book.  Okay 9.5 hours.  And the two handlings I mentioned earlier were the only things that tried to assail my reading experience.  But with such a good cast, amazing writing, and all but one character, seeming to actually have a real arch, I came through feeling like damn.  Where the hell is the next book already.  

My two issues dropped my own personal experience down but the writing is still an almost ten.  If I would change anything, Slider aside, it would be inserting one page in the middle.  After the first massive reveal a page that says 'part two' chapter numbers continue as normal.  Reason being that the push of the first part is to kill the king.  The push of the second part is for the cast to escape their fate of death at the hands of the Rat Guild.  Both need to be in this book, but since the paths, or the agenda is completely switched, I wouldn't have a need to know about the mystery man turned 'acting' king.  I'd be aware that these are two parts of a whole and my brain would've immediately adjusted to the fact that the story has changed direction even if the characters were the same.  It should all be here, but separate if that makes any sense.

This first in the Somnagent series (slightly miffed about that too.  I have no clue what this word means.  That bugs me.) still, this first installment is a magical force to be reckoned with.  The writing is great.  The characters are interesting.  The flow is almost perfect, and the unanswered questions don't make you scream in agony that you weren't told, but instead entice you to want to know why.  This book does a more than excellent job of leaving the reader with that 'wanting to know more' feeling.  And I was glad that even though I saw the 'middle end' coming, that the overall end has left some big gaping, yet ultimately, intriguing things to ponder.  This book has left me thinking and conspiring of all the things to be seen in the next installment, and I'm dying to know if I'm right.  I can't wait to read part two.


A fantasy novel of thieves and assassins in a world run by corrupt gangs. Slider and Fippa are just trying to survive by any means possible, even if it means getting their hands dirty. Their luck seems to turn around when Fippa lands the job of a lifetime: kill the king of the land. Slider, a young and promising assassin, jumps at the chance to prove himself, while Fippa's eyes are set upon the gold and glory. But to kill the king, they must first make an arduous journey to the castle. Has their luck turned for the better? Or have they in fact been led into a trap? Betrayal and intrigue run rampant in this cloak and daggers tale as both Slider and Fippa slowly realize there is more at stake than just their lives.

Author Bio

Erik Nelson loves fantasy! Every fantasy story starts with a clean pallet to paint upon. The possibilities extend to the corners of imagination. Unfortunately, his mind never rests. So he writes it down to get it out of his head. His favorite stories have clever characters, but also have action. He grew up reading Dragonlance and Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was the first "serious" book he read at age 10 and since then has been hooked. He loves playing games with friends that involve fantasy too. Dragonstrike was his first Dungeons and Dragons experience at age 12, and he has been writing stories every since age 13. After college he moved to Japan to challenge himself, and while there wrote a Dungeons and Dragons campaign for my friends that they played when he returned a year later. Afterwords he moved to Italy, where he decided to write a full length trilogy based upon the adventures he and his friends had around the table.  He's really quite nerdy when it comes to this stuff, but doesn't mind.  Nobody really gets to choose their passions.

Side note

Nerds rule.  There one sentence with more than enough umph to say purchase this novel.  And only truly awesome people have a passion for writing.  It's a scientific fact.  Oh and one more thing....

Nerds rule. 

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