Review: The Fallen Kings Cycle: The Dread + New Writing

Edit: Huh, apparently this is my 100th post. Well, I’ll be a monkey’s carbuncle.

Review: The Dread:

“The Dread” is the second book of Gail Z. Martin’s “Fallen Kings Cycle,” but that name really just stems from a change of publishers. In truth, this is the sixth book of her “Chronicles of the Necromancer” series. Before I give my thoughts on “The Dread,” let me give you a little retro review on the series to date, so as to have some context. Expect a few vague spoilers.

Cover art for "The Fallen Kings Cycle, book two: The Dread" by Gail Z. Martin“The Chronicles of the Necromancer” is an interesting hybrid of dark fantasy and high fantasy. The style of the story is very much in the high fantasy vein, full of wizards and epic conflict, but the setting is more dark fantasy. Instead of Elves and Dwarves, the land is populated by vampires (they’re called vayash moru in this series, and they do not sparkle), werewolves (called vyrkin), and various forms of vengeful dead.

It is the story of Martris (or “Tris”) Drayke, the king of the nation of Margolan, one of the Winter Kingdoms. He is also the first Summoner — or necromancer — in a generation, making him a mage of virtually unmatched power.

The series began with Tris as the second son of Margolan’s king, leading a peaceful life with no obligations or importance. This changed when his evil half-brother, Jared, and a dark wizard, Foor Arontala, murdered the rest of his family and forced Tris to become a fugitive.

As you would expect, Tris then went on an epic journey to free his kingdom from Jared’s depravities. Along the way, he learned to command his magic and gathered various allies: the warrior-princess of Isencroft, Kiara, whom he later married; the loyal palace guards, Soterius and Harrtuck; the gifted bard Carroway; the fiery healer, Carina; and the crude mercenary, Jonmarc Vahanian.

If they sound like a cliche bunch of characters, I suppose they are, but they were likable enough for it to work. It should also be noted that Jonmarc has a very long and tragic past which grants him more complexity than I can properly communicate in this blog. In all honesty, I think Jonmarc may be the best reason to read the entirety of this series.

Between the likable characters, the spooky atmosphere, and the sheer vileness of Jared and Arontala, the first two books of this series — “The Summoner” and “The Blood King” — were very enjoyable, and I recommend them. My only major complaint was that Tris, as a light mage, could not raise the dead or do any of the cool stuff we generally associate with necromancers.

Cover art for "The Chronicles of the Necromancer, book one: The Summoner" by Gail Z. MartinUnfortunately, the rest of the series has not lived up to the quality of its beginning. Once Jared was defeated, the series got progressively more domesticated. The epic struggle was gone, and more and more attention was given to more “soap opera”-type storylines, like Tris and Kiara wringing their hands over her pregnancy.

The second two books, “Dark Haven” and “Dark Lady’s Chosen,” showed promise and were partly saved by Jonmarc being ridiculously badass at every possible opportunity, but they failed to deliver the kind of intensity they should have.

That brings us to “The Fallen Kings Cycle,” and its first book, “The Sworn.” Honestly, I can’t even remember what happened in this book very well. It set up a new threat, an invasion by the northern nation of Temnotta and their Dark Summoner. But that’s just the thing: all it did was set up. There was no punch, no real excitement.

In “The Dread,” Gail Martin makes a heroic effort to resurrect (See what I did there?) the action and intensity of the first books in the series, but she’s only partially successful.

What was once the strength of the series, its large cast of likable characters, has started to weigh it down. The cast has ballooned to an unwieldy size, and several of the characters seem to add little or nothing of value to the story. The book is painfully slow in getting going, and much of the first few hundred pages — these are big books — feels unnecessary.

Now, to be fair, the last few chapters of “The Dread” are actually pretty spectacular, showing the armies of the Winter Kingdoms, the vayash moru, the vyrkin, and even the ancient dead of centuries past rising up to face the Temnottan invasion. The true power of Summoners is in evidence as Tris battles his northern counterpart.

But it’s impossible to escape the feeling of “too little, too late,” and the Dark Summoner proves a disappointment, as well. Whereas Jared was lovingly crafted into a sociopath of the highest order, and even Malesh — the rogue vayash moru villain of the middle books — was passably intimidating as a villain, the Temnottan Dark Summoner is woefully underdeveloped to the point where even calling him a character and not a plot device is just inaccurate.

I can’t help but compare Gail Z. Martin to James Maxey. I started reading their books at around the same time, and I saw many parallels: they were originally with the same publisher, both tried to bring something new to the fantasy genre, and both had a lot of potential, despite being a bit rough around the edges.

As we saw with “Greatshadow,” James Maxey has improved greatly since his early career. But sadly, Gail Martin seems to be stagnating. I’d like to see her grow as much as Maxey has, but I’m losing hope.

Overall rating for “The Chronicles of Necromancer”: 7.2/10

Overall rating for “The Dread”: 6.3/10

New writing:

Weird Worm has posted another of my articles, “The Six Stages of Inspiration.” Despite their botching one of the image uploads, I think this is one of the best things I wrote for them. But maybe that’s just the narcissistic artist in me.

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