Title: The Norothian Cycle (Books I-IV)
Author: M. Edward McNally
Format: Kindle Edition
Size (Book I): 927 kb – 475 pages
Rating 0-100: 98 (5 Stars)
Tilda Lanai has trained for years to take her place among the Guilders of the Miilark Islands, but now the Trade House she is to serve is imperiled by the absence of a legitimate Deskata heir. Scenting blood in the water, rival Houses begin to circle. The desperate search for an exiled heir takes Tilda across a war-torn continent and to the gates of the Sable City, where centuries ago dark magic almost destroyed the world. Along with a sinister sorceress, a broken-hearted samurai, and a miscreant mercenary long on charm but lousy with a crossbow, Tilda must brave the demon-infested ruins. Only then can she find John Deskata, who may not want to be found at all.
(Only one thing worse than reading short blurbs for long books, writing short blurbs for long books. The above is very nuts and bolts: “Tilda must go here to do this,” but of course it is all a lot more complicated than that. I love the fantasy genre and respect its classic elements. That said, this series is to some extent about playing with what might be expected, and bringing some humor, mystery, and a bit of flirty banter to what can easily turn only too grim, when the stakes are so “fantastically” high. It isn’t “Dark” fantasy, but nor is it slapstick. It’s basically a character piece about Tilda Lanai, trying to hold down a job, help out her friends, and survive the day-to-day. With a couple dragons thrown in, of course. – Ed McNally)
This is a review of not one book, but four. These four books of the Norothian Cycle (Sable City, Death of a Kingdom, The Wind from Miilark, Devil Town), are the first in a series. I’m not sure how many more there will be, but I know that the author is working on Book V now. If I took them individually my five star rating would hold up for each one, but I believe it’s only fair to treat this series as a single review, as I doubt that anyone that purchases the first book would not be inclined to buy the others as well.
I first came across Ed McNally (@medwardmcnally on Twitter) on the Indies Unlimited website where he has a regular column. His articles are informative and witty, and that led me to pick up a copy of Sable City. It’s the type of book I loved to read while growing up. Tolkien, Donaldson, and a few others made the fantasy genre a favorite of mine. I grew out of these types of books, becoming bored with what seems to be the same problem with vampire stories today. There are just too many, and the structure falls apart when each author describes their vampire, or dragon/elf/dwarf/magic, in a different way.
Yes, it does make the story unique when your vampire has an alien origin, or the God of Bizmark created all dragons, but it also ruins a good genre when it’s not done properly. I’m not saying that all magic systems should work the same, but with so many variations out there it damn well better be original, believable, and compelling if you stray from the norm. McNally and his Norothian Cycle brought the fantasy genre back to life for me because he kept it simple and pulled from a realm that I, and hundreds of thousands of others are familiar with; D&D.
There are many good things about this series, not the least of which is that it’s easy to understand how things work, especially if you have D&D experience in your past. The magic system used is familiar, as are many of the spells. Some of the creatures in the book are similar to the ones that I’ve come across in many games. This is not a bad thing; it’s a good thing. McNally doesn’t rewrite the magic system or creatures. There’s no need to. I already know what dragons look like, and I know that the color of the dragon indicates a specific challenge in terms of what to expect; fire, acid, poison, cold, etc…
Even those not familiar with the mechanics of D&D will be able to keep up easily. McNally does a good job of giving you just enough information to keep you on your toes. It’s not all about magic and creatures though. At its core, it’s about the characters. Each of them have their own lives, and agendas. This is what makes the story shine, and it raises the bar for future fantasy novels that I will read. Tolkien was the original master, and Gary Gygax (D&D creator) was influenced heavily by his work. McNally manages to blend the two and tell a tale of epic proportions. This is not just a good book, it is an excellent series.
Book I (Sable City) is a staggering 180,000+ word novel. There’s nothing better than a large book, especially when it’s a good one. The others are a bit lighter, but no less enthralling. Some of the characters are lovable, some are dastardly, but all of them are memorable. The multiple plots all cross and converge at various points, and it’s enough to leave you breathless.
There is some bad news, and I’ll give it to you straight. Some of the descriptions go on longer than necessary at times, especially at the start of a new chapter. I found myself skipping multiple paragraphs of prose to get back to the action on more than a few occasions. This was most annoying in the first book, but the later ones are not that bad. It did take me out of the story a few times, and I thought to myself, “Wow, this author has a ton of detail on everything in his world.” – I just didn’t need that much detail.
That’s it. If you can skip a few paragraphs here and there, not unlike fast forwarding through a commercial on the DVR, then you won’t have any problems getting through the first story.
If you buy the first book then you will probably buy the rest of them. I bought books two and three about halfway through book one. It was fortunate that book four became available just as I finished book three. Now I’m waiting patiently for book five. This is one of my favorite fantasy series. The characters, the humor, and the story kept me entertained for a couple of weeks, and I feel like I’ve had a vacation.
Fantasy isn’t for everyone, I’ll concede that point. However, if you’ve ever played D&D (and enjoyed it), or you’re a fan of Tolkien, Donaldson and other masters of the genre, then you will love this series. It’s my top fantasy pick of the year so far.