Book Review: Valley of Embers

Valley of Embers is the first book of the Landkist Saga by Steven Kelliher. It tells the story of a group of Embers with the ability to manipulate fire as they keep the Valley safe from the attacks of the Dark Kind during the Dark Months. Kole Reyna is one such Ember who guards Last Lake. He is one of the last Embers to be born in decades. With the Embers dying and the Dark Kind getting stronger, Kole must turn his sights towards the peaks, where his mother once travelled, to cut off the Dark Kind’s head. While the elders and history suggests that the Eastern Dark is responsible for this, Kole believes in his heart that the true evil is the savior of the valley – the White Crest. Linn Ve’Ran, a good friend of Kole, believes the opposite and races off with a group of Last Lake folk to reach the peaks before Kole does. Meanwhile, the walls of Hearth, a nearby village, is about to be tested by the largest army the Valley has ever known.

Steven Kelliher used to be a professional fighter but after some injuries and failed surgeries, he rededicated his efforts to writing. Here is a great reddit post where he compares professional fighting with self-publishing. Valley of Embers is the fourth book he has written and is the first one he’s published. He was kind enough to send me an ARC in exchange for a review. I’ve done a few ARCs before, but this is the first time I know that an author will be reading a review I wrote, so it’s making me a little nervous.

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Valley of Embers has a kickass cover!

The Good

There are many characters to follow in the novel and I enjoyed all of them. While Kole is without a doubt the main character, all the other point of view characters were interesting in their own way, with their own desires and agendas that they strive towards. Though at times it can get a little frustrating when the characters keep their plans from each other in order to “protect” others. In many ways, the switching of views between characters reminded me a lot of the Wheel of Time series – a few key characters and a few other minor characters who we might not see in future books but are big players in the current book. And that is certainly a plus point in my book. The character Talmir Caru in particular was my favorite in the book. He is the non-Ember, realist (some might even say pessimist) commander of Hearth’s defenses and knows when to do the right thing despite the cost. In many ways, he is the everyman in the novel, someone who can’t do everything but does his best to achieve what he can.

There were a lot of fight scenes in this book and all of them were well done. I was engaged and rooting for the characters to withstand the might of the Dark Kind as they are attacked. The different weapons and abilities used by the characters, like the Embers with their Everwood blades and staffs, kept the battles fresh despite there being so many of them. I was never bored by the fight scenes. I wonder if the author’s experience with professional fighting helped him in this area.

The last quarter or so of the books was a string of revelations and events that had me nailed to my iPad as I tried to get through to it as fast as humanly possible. It kept me on the edge of my chair and while certain twists were expected, others blindsided me and all were fairly well done in my opinion. And best of all, there was a decided end to the book (i.e no cliffhangers) while still posing some questions about what would happen next to the people of the Valley and hints that the world will become larger in the sequels. The best kind of ending, in my opinion.

The Bad

The book has a slow start. It didn’t really gripped me until about a quarter in. While some authors prefer to slowly introduce characters as the story progresses, the author drops us right into the deep end with multiple point of view switches within the first few chapters. This means that the tone of the book takes time to set itself down and more pages are needed before I felt familiar with the characters enough to root for them.

Besides that, I also felt bombarded by terms that I couldn’t understand. For example, it took me a while to actually realize what Landkist actually meant. And I’m still not entirely sure what Landkist of the Valley means. One part of the book mentions that flame wielding Landkist of the Valley protected Last Lake, while another part mentions that Embers weren’t Landkist of the Valley, Faeykins who could heal and look into the future were. Maybe it was just a mistake that got through the edits, but while confusing, it didn’t detract from the novel itself. Either way, I do acknowledge the fact that the start of the book was slow enough already and I’m glad that the author did not choose to explain the details as that would just everything bloated.

Others

There are aspects of the book that reminded me of Avatar: the Last Airbender. The Embers resemble firebenders and Rockbleds resemble earthbenders, except they’re even more awesome if you can believe that. The disappearance of the White Crest, a savior figure in the history of the Emberfolk, kept putting the line “But when the world needed him most, he vanished” in my head. It’s not a one to one thing but I love that it reminded me of them.

Verdict

An excellent debut and first book to a series. Has a slow start but once you get that past that initial hump, you’re rushing all the way down that hill. And while being self-published might be a turn off for some, I assure you that Valley of Embers is definitely something that deserves a spot on store shelves.

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