It is almost a cliche at this point, but I was one of the legion of boys and girls who were captivated by J.R.R. Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I loved the adventure and the magic of exploring another world. I soon jumped from Tolkien to writers like C.S. Lewis, Piers Anthony, Isaac Asimov, Anne McCaffrey, Roger Zelazny & Robert Sheckly, etc. I am not an avid reader of fantasy novels these days but I do dip into the genre now and again; particularly children’s or young adult (see here and here).
Recently I was intrigued by the upcoming release of a new fantasy trilogy. What first drew my eye to The Crimson Sword by Eldon Thompson was the fact that the author was a college football player before turning to writing. For some reason college quarterback turned fantasy novelist seemed worth exploring. So I dug in and committed myself to reading this over 500 page work. The result was mixed. The larger story arc is interesting and imaginative and the characters are well drawn for the most part. But the prose was a bit heavy at times and the story gets off to a slow start. It is not surprising that a first time author would struggle with some of the finer points, but Thompson certainly shows promise. I am sure fantasy readers will enjoy having a work like this to dive into and further volumes to look forward to (this is volume one of a planned trilogy).
**Minor spoilers ahead**
The central character of The Crimson Sword is Jarom, Guardian of Diln. Jarom is a mild mannered young man living in a rural, almost idyllic, part of the kingdom of Alson. Jarom, along with his friend and expert archer Allion, is responsible for keeping the village safe. Given its size and agricultural nature this isn’t a particularly dangerous job.
The village’s peaceful isolation, however, is soon destroyed when the King of Alson is assassinated. A mysterious wizard soon appears to lay siege to the capital city. Unable to overcome the wizard’s magic the city is soon laid to waste throwing the kingdom into chaos. The Queen flees the city pursued by soldiers of the invading army.
Jarom and Allion save the Queen from her pursuers only to have her arrival change their lives forever. It turns out the Jarom is in fact Torin second child of the slain King Sorl. The Queen soon relates how she despaired for the kingdom after her first born son, corrupted by his hedonistic father, was banished for attempting to poison the king. She faked her second son’s death and had him placed with her youthful love in Diln to be raised up in a virtuous and responsible way; and thus able to rule the kingdom when the time came.
Jarom can hardly believe his ears as this story is related. His identity and life has been pulled out from under him. All of the trust and peace he has built up over the years is destroyed in a moment. The village council, however, decides that he should journey to a nearby kingdom to ask for help against the invading wizard. After wrestling with all of this new information, he agrees to the undertake the journey with his friend Allion.
Behind the scenes, however, are a mysterious race of “avatars” known as Entients who have other plans for Jarom. This is where the Crimson Sword comes into play. The sword is a powerful talisman from a long since disappeared race of elven lords and is rumored to have incredible powers. Jarom has dreamed of finding the sword since he listened to tales of its creation and disappearance as a child. With a little help from the Entients and his own imagination Jarom and Allion are soon searching for the Crimson Sword instead of returning to Diln (they had been turned away at the border on their original task).
Another twist involves the awakening of the Demon Queen Spithaera who has loosed her own evil minions out into the world. The Dragon-spawn who are soon attacking and destroying cities across the realm are not the work of the wizard, as many assume, but part of a plot by Spithaera to take over the world. The combination of Jarom’s quest and the Demon Queen’s desire set him on the path to achieve his destiny,or die trying, while wrestling with his own personal demons on top of the actual ones.
Throw in assassins, secret cannibal tribes, a love interest for Jarom with a secret of her own, and regular attacks by demonic creatures, and epic battle scenes and you have a active and complex story. Put this in the epic adventure category.
So did the former college QB choose the right profession? I would have to say yes. In general Thompson shows remarkable imagination. There are a variety of characters and they are well drawn for the most part. The plot is suspenseful and has enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested. The imaginary world in which the story takes places is flushed out enough to provide the necessary background, but is also left mysterious to create a sense of history; sense of having existed, of depth. The world seems complete and complex enough to provide for the continuation of the story. Obviously Thompson is no Tolkien, despite the similarities in story and genre, but he shows promise for a first time novelist.
Perhaps because of this relative inexperience, however, Thompson at times seems to load the story down with description and inner dialog. He goes to great length to describe the landscape and creatures that Jarom and company encounter in great and effusive detail. Additionally, Jarom is constantly wrestling with inner doubt and guilt over his choices and actions. This ends up being a drag on the pace of the story. Just as the pace begins to find its rhythm with steady action and suspense, Thompson adds in Jarom (or some other character’s) inner thoughts of doubt, etc. I had the feeling that some skillful editing could turn this 500 page plus tome into a fast paced thriller.
But perhaps this is just taste. After all, many readers might enjoy the thick description and psychological musings of the characters. Maybe my tendency to want to rush through a book causes me to under-appreciate the detail and back story involved. Heck, maybe I just struggle with reading large books in my ever shortening spare time; unlike the remarkably free high school and college years.
Fantasy adventure fans will want to check out this rookie effort. And if you enjoy exploring fantastic worlds and reading about personal quests and epic battles full of legend and myths, you should pick up the Crimson Sword. I will be sure to keep my eye out for part two. It will be interesting to see both how the story and the author’s skills develop.