Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Demon Stones by Michael Drakich #review

Title: Demon Stones
Author: Michael Drakich
Publisher: Traanu Enterprises, 2014

So far as the premise goes, Demon Stones certainly tempted me to pick it up out of my slush pile of review books. So far as small press/indie-published books go, this one *looks* good. The cover illustration featuring what I assume is the malignant imp Hiss is masterfully done and perfectly suits the tone for what follows.

Essentially, this is the story of the farmboy Garlin – or Gar, as we get to know him – who discovers that he has the ability to hear and affect the demons trapped in the monolithic demon stones scattered throughout the land. As we can surmise from the get go, releasing ancient demons from stones in which they were imprisoned *for good reason* is never a good idea. Gar reaps the harvest of his folly for the rest of the novel when he gets tangled up in a war made worse through his actions.

Gar himself is not a nice boy, and it’s the nasty, petty side of his personality that helps make things worse. So far as protagonists go, I’d peg him rather as the inadvertent antagonist throughout the novel, as he blunders his way along, freeing more and more catastrophic demons and making one bad decision after the other. Even near the end, there is very little that is redeemable about him, and I plant him firmly in the TSTL category.

Darlee, Gar’s sister, and their grandfather, Pap, do their best to fix Gar’s mistakes. Their efforts, though in the end largely fruitless, are commendable. Darlee suffers a great injustice stoically, and though part of me wished she would have gone on to give her brother a swift kick up the rear, I feel she’s the true hero of this story for all that she goes through. Secondary characters, like Captain Brusk and Lieutenant Devron, play pivotal roles as well, as they attempt to save their little kingdom from being completely overwhelmed.

My feelings about this novel are conflicted. On one hand, I feel about Demon Stones pretty much the same way that I feel about Magician by Raymond E Feist, to which I’ll make a near-direct comparison with regard to writing style and dogged by similar issues. This is not a bad book. I was able to finish reading it, which says something because I’ve reached the point in my book reviewing career where life is too short. I am not shy to relegate a book to the DNF pile.

I finished Demon Stones.

Did I enjoy it? Kinda. The premise entertained me. I was sufficiently invested to see what would happen. But…

The writing itself, like Feist’s, felt a bit flat. There’s no lacking for imagination but characters could have been better developed. Layering could have been denser, in that I didn’t *feel* immersed in the setting, which came across, like Feist, as very generic dot fantasy type setting. I wanted to taste/hear/see things. Don’t tell me it’s a house. Show me that it’s half-timbered with mullioned windows that need cleaning. Let me smell the scent of resin, hear the wind soughing in the bows of the pine trees. That sort of thing. Overall, very white-roomy. Details, like combat sequences, the training of men, the interaction between characters, could have benefited from more attention to nuance.

All that being said, I’d consider this an adequate fantasy read. The author has a strong voice and an engaging narrative that doesn’t lag, and he provided a product that is well edited and well produced. If there were any gremlins in the body of the text, they didn’t jump out and grab me by the eyeballs – so there is that. So, if you’re of a mind that considers Raymond E Feist a paragon of his genre, you’re probably going to dig Demon Stones. I’m possibly looking for a little more meat and grit with my preferred reading material.

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