Emerald and Sapphire, Push and Pull...

VOICE OF WAR is a self-published book that's received a lot of buzz from popular creators in the "BookTube" space, with some going so far as to compare the THREADLIGHT trilogy to Sanderson's work (noteably the MISTBORN series). It was also free to borrow via Prime Reading, so I decided to give this a shot.

3/5 For me, this almost felt like the equivalent of watching a fun action movie with a weird script, cheesy acting, and some rushed sets, but great fight scenes and special effects. Had the ending felt a bit more satisfying, I think I would have placed this at a 4/5. 

While many have compared the THREADLIGHT trilogy to Brandon Sanderson's writing, one area where I found this to be particularly untrue is in VOICE OF WAR's cast. Characters and dialogue are very tricky elements to nail down, particularly in a debut (or the start of any story, really), but there is something about the interactions in this book, that I just wasn't able to get over. Sometimes emotional or tender interactions felt very cliched and brief while there are other moments, which seemed to be aimed at humor, that came off as weird to me. All of the characters are pretty distinct both in terms of how they looked and how they acted. They were also all fairly interesting with only Laz and Reina feeling kind of stereotypical/archetypal. All of the heroes are likeable enough objectively, there just wasn't anything about them that made me feel especially invested in their stories. My one exception to this would probably be Alverax, since I actually found him to be quite compelling and the stakes always seemed to feel higher during his limited page time. 

The book goes a bit out of it's way to be overtly feminist which felt kind of awkward and forced at times, but did result in lots of badass female warrior characters which was great. Oddly, Chrys's wife, Iriel, is just kind of there for a lot of the story, but every other woman in the book is as lethal as their male counterparts. I will also say that the villains in this had some very fun lines and monologues that had me wanting to twirl my own moustache just to join in on the fun. 

VOICE OF WAR could be classed as an "epic fantasy" despite it's shorter page count in comparison to other books within the subgenre. It has a world filled with diverse nations, political intrigue, at least one magic system, and follows the perspectives of a handful of main characters. What it largely aims to do is really streamline all of these different elements such that the narrative is tightly composed and kept at the forefront of the book's priorities (which also makes this a great starter book for those looking to get into epic fantasy without committing to a gigantic tome). While some will almost certainly appreciate the characters more than I did, this is certainly much more of a plot driven story, so those who gravitate toward character-driven tales may be turned away by this. Fortunately, I tend to fall squarely into the plot-driven side of things, so the pacing and focus of this story is something I absolutely loved. I also liked that there are lots of different aspects to the story thanks to the various characters that we follow and that there are different mysteries which slowly unravel over the course of the adventure. I did also appreciate that while the stakes are high and there is plenty of melodrama, things never got too dark to be unenjoyable and there are certain lines that the author refrains from crossing.

The action scenes are wonderfully done and dispersed nicely throughout the story. Just when things felt as though they had been calm for a while, something happens to mix it up. It never felt too overbearing and I didn't think the transitions were jarring at all, but those who don't like a lot of battle scenes might want to be aware that these are fairly frequent. Honestly, with the action and the pacing alone, I was feeling like this was a solid 4-star read for me. What brought things down in terms of my enjoyment is that I have a strong prejudice against cliffhangers. I understand that they are meant to entice readers to continue with the series, but I often find them to be abrupt, unsatisfying, and unearned. I am definitely intrigued to know what happens next, which I guess is the point, but I think that ending with several consecutive cliffhangers for each of the characters was a bit much, particularly for a debut. I feel like there needs to be a report built up with readers in order for this to work well and now I am nervous about whether Argyle can deliver on a satisfying ending to the trilogy if I do continue. Perhaps there was no way around this, but I will be hesitant to continue onward given that I don't know for sure if the next books will be satisfying or not. 

Kind of a random aside, but this book also seemed to be trying to provide some lines that are highly quotable. Normally, I find this sort of thing to be immensely pretentious and annoying (unless the line's quotability is simply due to the beauty of the prose), but Argyle manages to do this in a way that I didn't mind. I definitely understand that there are a lot of readers who love highly quotable books and I think it was wise that the author navigated this in a way that seemed like he was aiming more for relatability points than indulging in the pretense of something that is meant to sound profound. Ultimately, this was a net neutral for me,  but I know there are some readers who will be very pleased to have so many passages that seem specifically written to be highlighted or tabbed. 

The story for this installment in the trilogy takes place in what felt like one small section of this world. That said, there are three major cities that are explored here as well as three distinct cultures. I think it's impressive just how much worldbuilding is done in so little time. Entire social systems are detailed and I had a decent visual vibe for each of the three main locations. That said, I would have liked a little more physical imagery to be described for each place since I think my brain was largely filling in a lot of details in this regard. The same could probably also be said about the characters since I did not imagine them as looking anything like how they do on the covers. All in all though, the locations aren't really the main focus of the story and they do a fine enough job of providing a backdrop for each character's narrative as well as all the action scenes. I will say that I most enjoyed the treetop city within the Fairenwild since that felt the most unique and fantastical. If I continue with the series, I hope that it explores more creative locales like that one. 

For those interested in the magic system, I would say that I quite liked it and got the impression that there is more to be discovered. In execution, the magical abilities felt sort of like a mashup of Allomancy from MISTBORN, and the stormlight-infused abilities of The Knights Radiant from THE STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE. It is worth noting though that this magic system is quite a bit softer than both of those that seem to have inspired it. There are some rules that are shared with us as well as hints that there is more to uncover, but at no point did I have a comprehensive grasp of the full extent of the possibilities or limitations of the magic. Personally, that is no problem at all for me. In some ways, I almost prefer that things stay a bit more ambiguous, but some might want to go in with the right expectation for this aspect of the world. 

The cover art for this series is already quite famous for how stunning it is and I would certainly echo that praise. Beyond that, the presentation and polish of this story is also top tier. 

VOICE OF WAR was an enjoyable enough action-fantasy romp with some highs and some lows when it comes to my tastes. I don't think the comparisons to Sanderson's works are quite warranted, though I do see how the MISTBORN and STORMLIGHT ARCHIVE series have inspired it. I wished that there was something about the ending that felt more fulfilling, but in the end, I may continue with the rest of the trilogy at some point, especially if I just want to get into something with lots of action again. 

(+) Fast-paced storytelling
(+) Some very quotable lines (for those who enjoy that)
(+) Excellent villain monologues
(+) Lots of exciting action sequences
(-) Really odd dialogue and character interactions
(-) Several cliffhangers with end twists that didn't always make sense
(-) I never felt particularly invested in anything or anyone
(-) Environments/cities could have been more detailed


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