The Bastard King
by Dan Chernenko
Reviewed by Coral
Avornis is a realm that is bordered by a great evil. The Banished One, a god disgraced and thrown from heaven, controls the land beside them, ruling the nomadic Menteshe, and conquering land wherever he can. The men and women in the land he conquers become thralls, kept dormant by magic, used to till the land to feed the nomadic hordes. Every so often one of these thralls wakes up, throws off the magical chains that bind them, and find their way to Avornis. But, sometimes, they are something more sinister: spies sent by the Banished One, that can pass into Avornis undetected, to learn everything they can about the enemy.
Following in the same vein of Black Sun Rising, if this book had just stuck to its premise it could have been good. Unfortunately things get rather muddled right from the get-go. Avornis' King Mergus is a man without an heir, unless one counts his younger brother, Scolopax, which Mergus doesn't. When a son is finally born to Mergus, it is not to one of his six legal wives, but to his concubine. In an attempt to legitimize his son Lanius he takes his concubine as his seventh wife, in direct opposition of divine laws. Which is stupid, because in doing so he opens the door to a heated religious debate knowing full well he won't live long enough to force his views onto all his people. Why he didn't just kill Scolopax or one of his wives, I don't know. Dude, when you're practically on your death bed you don't have time for subtle political manipulations.
So he dies and Scolopax inherits the throne, de-legitimizing Lanius in one second flat. Scolopax is every inch the one-dimensional villainish cartoonish king: he drinks, demeans his people, dismisses good ministers who disagree with him, starts a war with the neighboring Thervings then does nothing to protect his people. Scolopax is also gay - I'm all for gay characters that transcend the stereotypes we so often get - except that here it just seems like Chernenko added it in as another example of why Scolopax is a terrible, horrible king. I apologize if I'm wrong, but that's how it seemed. Scolopax doesn't kill Lanius because he has no heir of his own, and instead dies, leaving his country in the midst of a war he started, led by a Council of Regents, ruling for a bastard eight-year-old king. Way to think of your country first there, Scolopax.
So of course the Council of Regents rules ineffectually for a bit. Again, why they didn't see to it that Lanius and his mother met with a little "accident" I have no idea. What do these people have, rocks for brains? They must, as Lanius sits in the shadows and pulls their strings to make sure he has a chance to grow up to lead the country. Contrived much? So this genius kid bumps off the head of the Council and installs his mother and I quit then and there.
Man, so much crap happened in the first 100 pages and I couldn't care less about any of it. I hated the style of writing. It was like we had a few paragraphs on what was going on with the royal family, then we cut away to two soldiers, Grus and Nicator to get the "common people's" reaction to the political situation and an update on the war status, then fast-forward a few years - inside of one chapter! - and start the cycle again.
Another thing I didn't like was how much information they gave away in the prologue, stating right away that Grus and Lanius both become kings. I don't know about you, but I like a book's plot to be a little twisty.
I'm hesitant to grade this book the F I think it deserves, because I didn't read all that much of it. And, since the overall premise sounded promising, it had the possibility of getting better. Well, that and the cover art for books 2 and 3 are amazing.