July 24, 2012

Review: State of Grace, by John Phython

Author: John R. Phython, JR.
Title: State of Grace
Series: Wolf Dasher #1
Publisher: John Phython (November 21st 2011)
Disclaimer: Copy received for review

Buy your copy: Kindle

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“When his friend and colleague in Urland’s Shadow Service, Sara Wensley-James, is murdered in the elf nation of Alfar, Wolf Dasher’s mission seems simple: track down her killer and bring him to justice. But nothing is going to be easy about this case.

Sara named Sagaius Silverleaf, Alfar’s ambassador to Urland as the culprit, but he couldn’t have done it. He was in Urland at the time of the murder.

Sent to Alfar under cover as Urland’s new ambassador, Wolf begins the most difficult and dangerous mission of his career. The once-lush and magical land of the elves is decaying. Its once-verdant countryside is putrefying before its citizens’ eyes. Some blame the presence of human occupiers – Urlish military units present to keep order and support Alfar’s shaky coalition government. Some blame losing the message of the great prophet, Frey, and turning away from God’s plan. But many think it is simply the schism in elfin religion that spawned a civil war and daily acts of terrorism by fundamentalist martyrs.

Wolf must navigate this nightmarish environment to find Sara’s killer. Could Silverleaf have been responsible? If so, why? His investigation leads him into an intricate web of assassination, betrayal, and zealotry. With the help of Aflar’s Elite Guard captain, May Honeyflower, Wolf uncovers piece after piece of a sinister puzzle: a psychotic killer, a mad general bent on conquest, an ancient, evil artifact, and a terrorist organization planning a grand act of devastation. But how do they all fit together? What did Sara discover that got her killed?

As the Feast of the Revelation, the holiest day on the elfin calendar, approaches, Wolf and Honeyflower find themselves in a race against time to unravel a plot that could topple Alfar’s government, plunge it into war, and change the balance of power in the world forever.

State of Grace is the first in a series of fantasy-thriller mash-up novels, blending magic, super spies, and politics in an exciting brew of action and adventure. From the chilling opening scene to the pulse-pounding climax, State of Grace takes the best elements of an espionage thriller and a court intrigue and weaves them into a world both familiar and fantastic.” Amazon blurb

This book was pitched like a mash-up of traditional fantasy and James Bond style, which made it an interesting read by default... And yet, after having read it, I find myself wondering if it couldn’t have been more.

This novel is sink or swim: from the first line, it drops you in the middle of the action and intrigue and it hardly ever lets up. I have to admit that I... floundered. It was hard to understand the politics involved when I couldn’t place the players in the board, but still the story did kept me reading till the end.

I think that the very points that are State of Grace’s strongsuit are also its weak points. After a while, I could recognize places and characters not because I had gotten the hang of the fantasy world where it’s all set, but because I’m somewhat familiar with James Bond novels. The transliteration of those elements into the new setting was complete—complete enough that we had the bad guys speaking Russian and calling each other “comrade”; the Bond Girl being hot, French-speaking, and initially aligned to the dark side; and the theater of operations for the Cold War, the splintered Elfin nations, suffering suicide bombings and civil unrest for religious reasons.

Too close a fit for me to fully enjoy, even though there were good moments: my favorite was when Wolf antagonized the ambassador playing cards, and the game, Conquest, turned out to be a lot like Magic. It was fun to read in a geeky way! But the fact that Wolf Dasher is doing everything in his power to serve Her Majesty to the best of his abilities wasn’t enough for me this time because...

Well, because if the previous world building wasn’t clue enough, he serves Her Majesty and is assigned the codename Shadow Seven... Until he’s promoted to Shadow Six, but anyway.

While State of Grace didn’t capture me, I’m sure that it’ll have its niche, since the story itself was fairly entertaining. If you feel like this could be your kind of read, then by all means give it a shot to judge for yourself.

Also, a word of warning: I think I got finished copy, but it read a lot like an ARC and was in need of some editing.

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