Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Review: King of the Bastards by Brian Keene and Steven L. Shrewsbury

Rogan abdicated his throne to his firstborn son, because the sedentary life of a king was boring, grating on his barbarian nature. He needs to fight, to face death and win, to feel alive in his old age. Off on an adventure, Rogan finds himself shipwrecked after a pirate attack. But they weren't just any pirates after him. One of them claimed to be his son. And another of his bastard sons is after Rogan's family he left behind. Now, trapped on goreign soil, he must help the savages face a malicious shaman and his partner-- a cruel god-- to get their help in heading home to save the family he claims.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from http://www.apexbookcompany.com/products/king-of-the-bastards
Rogan has been many things in his life as an adventurer — a barbarian, a thief, a buccaneer, a rogue, a lover, a reaver, and most recently, a king. Now, this prehistoric bane of wizards and tyrants finds himself without a kingdom, lost in a terrifying new world, and fighting for his life against pirates, zombies, and the demonic entity known as Meeble. And even if he defeats his foes, Rogan must still find a way to return home, regain his throne, save his loved ones, and remind everyone why he's the KING OF THE BASTARDS.
This book is set in the silver years of Rogan's life, after he's traipsed the world as a barbarian, conquering peoples and taking what he likes. It's long after he claimed a crown, subjugated and allied with foreign dignitaries, and built a family. His deeds are brushed over in a sort of introduction, somewhat like for an epic poem. But seeing this sort of man aging is an interesting perspective. It's not the tale of a young barbarian versus the world. It's a man struggling against the decline of age, clinging to a past he once had while it threatens his future. It was a very interesting take for me.

Keene and Shrewsbury have a clean writing style. Unfortunately, it also felt a little simplistic, at least in content, if not word choice. There were moments where a sentence was trying to say something simple, and it felt like the gentlemen consulted a thesaurus to make it sound more complicated than it was. There were also a few (very few) incidents of analogies that just were not in keeping with the tone of the book. I don't remember the exact wording offhand, but I do remember feeling jarred at some of the word choices. In all, it was very easy to get shaken out of the world of this novel, which detracted from my enjoyment.

My Thoughts
It's obvious from the onset that Keene and Shrewsbury have a rich, full world in mind for Rogan and his companions to inhabit. There are some very rich details about the people we run across. Sadly, for me, all the work was in the details, leaving the big picture incomplete, almost as an afterthought. In a lot of ways, this read like a tabletop role playing game campaign, complete with random encounters and glossing over of the parts the players didn't want to play. The overall plot seemed to get put on the wayside for a sidequest, and the biggest questions I had regarding plot either went unresolved or just plain unaddressed. And the plot that was addressed felt a tad rushed and somewhat wandering, aiming for a tangent goal to Rogan's real driving problem. He wasn't really personally invested in the main conflict of the book. It was a means to an end, and one that I really fail to believe he would have gotten caught up in. Some of the plot reveals had me exasperated, wondering why the authors felt the need to pull other unexplained elements into the narrative that complicated things more. For me, there were a lot of questionable choices made in the plot.
Rogan was a bit of an issue for me, as well. I never connected with him, and I think that's because I never quite saw him go through any personal growth. Sure, that may have been intentional. He's clearly an aging man, and he's very set in his ways. That's apparent from the beginning, but he never changes, and he never seems to learn from the many mistakes he makes. Frankly, I fail to grasp how so many people want to have him around. His battle prowess is clear from the start, too, but I wouldn't have my whole tribe put up with him because he's good with weapons. But that's just me. If that stubbornness was intended by the authors to be a point of contention between Rogan and the reader, they did a great job. But I did have an issue with Rogan's lack of personal growth.
I do have to say, though, that Keene and Shrewsbury can ramp up the action scenes. The final fight is one to behold, though I admit I did get a bit lost in everything that went on. It would be splendid visually, I'm sure. It was definitely engaging, but again, I kept getting torn from the narrative by little things that would remind me I was reading a book.

Would I Recommend This Book? Sad to say, not really. While the premise and first fifth or so of the book intrigued me, after that point, it was like I was reading a whole different book. The plot wandered that far from the original conflict, and it never seemed to make its way back. It asked questions I never got answers to. I give King of the Bastards a savage 3 of 5 stars.

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