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Read to the end for the chance to enter a giveaway!
The Rise of Aredor (Book 1)
Strong as the mountains, lonely as the forest, steady as the plains, it rolled forth, echoing in the air and keeping time with the thunder of their horses’ hooves.
Banschbach’s first novel is filled to the brim with all the energy and excitement of a debut author discovering the power to create worlds, shape characters and fight battles – both internal and literally.
Starting this book, and for the first 3/4 of it, I was reminded pleasantly of the first time I read The Horse & His Boy by C.S. Lewis. It was my first experience with Narnia, and honestly I only picked it up because I was a horse-crazed child and there was some mention of talking horses on the back cover.
What I found within, was a world that had been living and thriving long before I ever drew breath. Well-developed, carefully organized, cultured and varied as the ‘real’ world, and written in such an effortless way that you couldn’t doubt or deny the existence of this world.
Yes, that is what Calorin, Argus and Aredor felt like. It felt like the long journey back to Narnia, a place I had never been to, but hungered for, fraught with peril and unexpected allies. That was a beautiful feeling to receive again, and wholly unexpected.
The first half of the story is really setting the stage for the second half. As Banschbach covers around a decade of our main character’s life it sometimes felt like paraphrasing. As Corin grew into Hamíd, I realized that this was necessary in order to give meaning and background to the characters going forward. So, while it was a bit of a trudge at first, it paid off.
Banschbach did a great job using cultures and traditions at play in our real world to inform and familiarize ourselves with the world of Aredor and it’s bordering countries. One could easily identify the Braetons with our Scots, but it was done gently, without beating you over the head with it.
I loved the characters of Emeth (Aidan) and Ahmed, and the brotherhood that they formed with Hamid (Corin) and Nicar. These friendships were a sunny spot within a book overflowing with war and heartache. I loved the way they grew to depend on each other, and reading their antics reminded me fondly of my own brothers.
If there was one weakness, it would be in the character development department. Our main character, Corin, was a bit too perfect for me. I’m not a thoroughly good or talented person, and I like my characters to have flaws, or at least one fatal flaw (it makes me feel better about being so imperfect, I suppose). It also makes it easier to sympathize. I am a firm believer that flaws are often what make a person likable. Positive attributes are to be admired, even imitated, but flaws are what make you love a person. With Corin, it seemed he was good at everything, and liked by just about everyone (except the bad guys, naturally). This made him difficult, though not impossible, for me to identify with him.
I think it is, perhaps, for this reason that I liked Emeth’s character so much. He has a tragic backstory lurking, just out of reach, and a battle-rage that scares even him. He is mentally scarred, and uses his good humor as a cover and defense. He was easily the most fascinating character within the book, and I was very glad to find the next book would focus more on him.
An element I really liked was the use of names. Both Hamíd & Emeth are assumed names that Corin and Aiden take on as foreigners in Calorin. I thought the transformation of Corin into Hamíd, and then back to ‘himself’ upon returning to Aredor was an interesting and intriguing touch. The fact that Aiden undergoes a similar journey, though in his own very Aiden-way, was nice. I like that the names carry an adopted persona, and that when switching languages they often switch names. It was a nice touch.
Despite taking place during war and dangerous skirmishes, the story lacked a certain heft in the suspense and danger. The characters were often hurt badly, but I quickly learned to stop taking it seriously, because they always seemed to recover with little to no repercussions. This took away a lot of the weight or gravity of the situation. I stopped believing they could die. Even Corin, mauled by a wild lion, now with a permanent limp, goes into battle, rides his horse, climbs battlements, with little to no issue. I often forgot he had a limp, unless it was specifically mentioned. Again, I would have liked to have seen him struggle more with this, as a sign of weakness would have made me root for him harder.
All that being said, this novel showed some wonderful sparks of potential, and left me looking forward to the next book.
Something I have found within my own writing, is that it grows as I do. The sparks I see in this story are clearly good, and can only grow with Banschbach’s continued experience. The story that a person writes at 17 can be worlds a part from the one they write at 20, or 25. (and so on, of course.) All you need is that spark to get you going.
The Wildcat of Braeton (Book 2)
Have you ever looked out over a field and seen the dead? Your friends, your brothers? Do you know how hard it is?
He wept for the men who had died. For the widows and orphans created by war. For those he had killed, and those he couldn’t save. For the destruction wreaked by war. He wept until he could no more.
It is one thing, to write one book. Incredibly difficult, and well worth the time, but many writers wear themselves and their ideas out on the first one. Others, are filled with the insatiable need to keep writing. This sequel felt like it came from a writer who had suddenly discovered the monster inside; the beast that thirsts for words, sentences, paragraphs…all full of character development, subplots and a worrisome amount of conflict.
The reading was a lot smoother in this one, and I can almost pinpoint the moment where I felt it- Banschbach hit her stride running at one point and never lost her footing after. It’s only uphill from here, folks.
After reading The Rise of Aredor, I was really looking forward to getting into the mind of Aidan (aka Emeth). His character seemed to be one of the most well-rounded, fleshed out, alive contributions to book 1.
I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get more backstory on him, I really, really wanted to know more about the friend he lost before joining the Phoenix Guard. Throughout both books, we get tantalizing bits about the original Emeth, but never a full accounting of the events leading up to and directly following his untimely death. Perhaps a short story is in order to cover this?
Banschbach seemed to go deeper into her characters this time around, and really delve into who they were, at their core. It was nice to become better acquainted with what makes them tick, and that element succeeded in helping me care all the more for their welfare.
I spent quite a bit of the book wishing that the female characters were allowed to do more. I have been spoiled by Tamora Pierce books, where the female characters are often leading the charge into battle. As a forward thinking, yet somewhat practical person, I can acknowledge that woman can learn to fight, have some disadvantages (biologically speaking) to men, and throughout history have been treated as the weaker sex (rather than as the fairer sex-which, clearly, is the more appropriate term here 😉 ).
All that being said, I was still waiting, wishing, hoping, that one of these young women would take up the sword and get to defending their homeland. Banschbach made me regret that. No spoilers, but if you find yourself wishing the same thing while reading this book, just remember: I warned you.
Speaking of the women, Kara was a joy in this one. I loved that she got more ‘screen-time’ in this sequel, and wished for more backstory and character development for the young Braeton. She livened up most scenes, and could probably fill an entire sequel with her continued adventures.
One of my main complaints of the first novel was that there seemed to be no gravity to the situation. Everyone kept talking about how all their lives were at risk, but no one of import died. Characters recovered from the gravest of injuries with very little effect remaining. Banschbach obviously heard my concerns coming a mile off, and preemptively struck down some key players throughout this novel. I won’t lie, that hurt, Claire. But, it lent gravity to the situation, and made what they were fighting toward all the more important to me.
I enjoyed the differences between our two main cultures at play, it was clear at all times how different the Aredorians and the Braetons are from each other. Each culture had it’s own traditions, way of dressing and even ways of fighting. Banschbach does a terrific job of world-building in this series, and I easily felt myself transported to whatever location our heroes traveled to.
I really enjoy the way war is portrayed in these books. The heroes of Aredor & Braeton go to war to defend their countries, and their families. They don’t do it for glory, they see no honor in killing, but it is a duty that must be carried out. Banschbach is at her finest when Aidan reflects on the aftermath of battle, and what it does to the survivors.
Not only are Aidan and Corin both filled with incredible survivor’s guilt, but they come home to peace and have no idea how to handle themselves. They need action, they are constantly on high alert, the only thing that helps is movement and even that only holds the darkness away for so long. It is a touching tribute to post traumatic stress disorder, and brings it down to a level anyone can identify with.
In conclusion, while this novel may have minor faults in pacing or character development, it rises above all of these in the third, and final, act. The lessons about war and peace eclipse any trivialities that came before, and fill the reader with hope and inspiration, and a heavy feeling of duty & honor.
Am I to assume that, from the detailed epilogue, there will be no more to the Aredor series? Perhaps. Or perhaps Banschbach will explore other countries of the world and their heroes. I wouldn’t mind following Ahmed or Azrahil down a few more bloody paths.
The steps that Banschbach has made through this series convince me that future books will only get better, and better still. Perhaps the highest praise I can give is this: These characters, these lines, these lessons, will stick with me for a very long time.
Come & Join me tomorrow for an interview with Claire Banschbach herself!
And in the meantime, whet your appetite for more Aredor & Braeton with a short story (or two!)
Enter to win ebooks of The Rise of Aredor and The Wildcat of Braeton, a set of 4 notecards of the series artwork, and the grand prize is a paperback set of the books + 1 notecard of choice!