REVIEW: DEAD STARS PART ONE (EMANESKA #3)
HOW I RATED IT
3/5 While I really enjoyed the promise of a drastically transformed world and thought there were some very interesting ideas introduced, the story decides to spend very little time on it's most interesting elements and instead follows an exiled Farden who is in an even more pitiable state than when we found him in the first book.
While settings can sometimes grow stale over the course of a series, Galley really shakes things up by introducing some rather drastic changes to the Emaneska that we'd come to know. Since the events of PALE KINGS, the magic of the land has changed and seemingly grown more potent as Farden's daughter grows in years. This has some rather interesting implications on the world, it's social structures, and the politics that have surrounded magic users since the start of the series. I wish we got to see a little more of this aspect of the worldbuilding as it is probably the book's most interesting element, but perhaps a lot of that is being saved for the next part.
The land itself is fairly standard this time around. Farden travels to a number of different towns, but they were all fairly standard medieval fantasy fare. His beachside hideaway was an interesting and fittingly grubby base of operations for him and I loved the scenes where he visited an old couple living out in the middle of nowhere at their cozy little cabin. The real highlight is actually in visiting the new Krauslung. The capital city has transformed into a thriving mercantile hub that bustles with magic-infused commerce and serves as a preaching ground for various new religious factions that have made somewhat fanatical devotions to specific gods. The ways in which the magic council transformed were equally interesting and it was fascinating to lightly explore the implications of not being able to make more Written (though the fact that it all hinged upon one person in the first place seems like a rather fragile system). All in all, I think this element continues to be the best part of the series.
Starting off with some positives, I think the supporting cast really shined through this time around. Durnus's development in particular was really interesting and I liked how Tyrfing came off in this book as well (though I still cannot stand the voice the narrator does for him or Mordren). Elessi is still Elessi, but at least we get to see her move past her truly baffling crush on Farden. Mordren takes on a more noteworthy role and I enjoyed seeing him on the good side this time. That said, I still don't really buy his friendship with Farden at all. They're like two guys who can get along for five minutes before they remember they actually hate each other and then get needlessly abrasive for the rest of the time. Other characters have much more fulfilling relationships with Farden, though I fully support Elessi's treatment of him. Newcomers like Jeasin and some of the more antagonistic characters from Farden's early misadventures mostly fell flat for me. I also found myself missing characters like Farfallen who do not make an appearance, though Illios has an endearing and important role to play during certain parts of the book. I also really enjoyed the three main gods that come down to earth and appreciated how distinct each of them were. The representations of Hiemdall and Loki in particular felt both fresh and familiar which is something else that really impressed me.
Farden on the other hand, is really just not great. I understand that his arc was all about falling into the pits of despair and having to crawl out of that state, but I just did not enjoy his chapters at all and the book spends so much time on him being a greedy, murderous, and overall lousy human being. Adding that to the fact that he's effectively cut himself off from magic with his relapsed drug addition and I just found him to be a very hard character to route for. I also wasn't totally sure why everyone was so obsessed with bringing him back. I understood that they care about him and that he's been a very impressive fighter in the past, but it just kind of felt like that trope in fiction where the story forcefully uplifts the main character to more than what they are because they are the main character.
As I mentioned, a ton of time is spent on Farden's life as a sellsword. We see him kill, steal, and just be a generally lousy human being. He interacts with other lousy human beings. While some of the "bad guys" get their comeuppance, I didn't necessarily feel satisfied since Farden wasn't all that much better of a person than they were. There is a bit of interesting Scallusen lore that is revealed along the way as well as some more endearing moments with a pleasant old couple that care for Farden as best they can as well as a friendly rodent who offers him some companionship. Throughout the story, we also get chapters that detail how things are developing in Krauslung and those remain my favorite parts of the story. Another really interesting element is in the flashback sequences that introduce us to a character from the distant past. It's not really clear why he's important until the book's final chapter/epilogue, but I rather enjoyed the ongoing mystery that this brought to the table.
Although she's pretty aloof for most of the story, I did enjoy the parts that show how messed up Farden's daughter is as well as her involvement in the finale. Oddly enough, the finale contains really the only action scenes of note. There's certainly some violence in Farden's life leading up to those events, but nothing quite like the action sequences that the series has sprinkled in up until now. While I felt like the first book had an overwhelming number of them, I sort of wished that this one was a bit more action packed and that the stakes felt a bit higher earlier on. Nothing is really resolved in the end either. While this is somewhat expected, since this is a "Part One," I still wish there was a little more done to wrap things up, especially since these are not short books.
I again read part of this book via the eBook and the rest of it on Audio. The length makes it hard to avoid leaning on the audio format in order to keep pace with the read along (especially since I wanted to read another rather long book this month). While I think the audio is serviceable and actually does improve noticeably here, there are still just so many things about it that make it a less than ideal experience for me. Some of the character voices were just not great, but then others were actually quite entertaining. The intonations when reading the prose were a lot better, but I still feel like there's something about it that does not lend itself well to audio and is best enjoyed by reading visually.
DEAD STARS PART ONE is sort of like a rather prolonged version of a TV episode that's all about building up to the next one. While I did not find it especially satisfying in and of itself, I am quite curious to see where things go in the fourth (and final???) book. Here's hoping that some of the more interesting aspects of this installment get a little more room to breathe.
(+) Beatufully described scenery and some interesting towns
(+) Even more involvement from some of the gods
(+) Some interesting flashback sequences to a time long ago
(+) Some really interesting concepts introduced as the magic of this world seems to amplify
(+) The supporting cast truly carries this one
(+) The small expansions to the mythology and lore were nice
(-) Farden has truly never been more insufferable
(-) The female characters still don't do much for me
(-) The audio is improved, but still not my preferred way to consume the story.
(-) An ending that's really just a lead into the next book (giving weight to the "Part One" side of the title)