Series: Godserfs #1
Publisher: Angry Robot (June 7, 2016)
Author Information: Website | Twitter
Length: 400 pages
My Rating: 2 stars
Silent Hall is an epic fantasy (perhaps more focused toward young adults) filled with many classic fantasy tropes, such as a group of strangers thrown together, an all-powerful (well, almost) wizard and an epic quest to save their home. There is adventure, gods, teenagers, angst, racism and many a sword and sorcery moment to wow you. At times, the narrative truly reminded me of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series – the good parts. At others, the resemblance of Silent Hall to every other generic fantasy I’ve ever read was fairly unmistakable. The book was not bad. Nor was it great. For quite a while during reading, its star rating rose and fell in my mind until it finally came to rest within that most dreaded of reading zones: the Okay Zone. (Yes, the okay zone is distantly related to the dreaded “friend zone” we all have experienced in relationships.) Not that there is anything wrong with a book being just okay, because that is fine, at least, in my eyes. Every book out there isn’t going to be the “Next Big Thing.” You know, the one which makes history and fundamentally changes the genre. Nope, sometimes a story is decent and entertaining, which perfectly describes Silent Hall.
Here the tale revolves around five teenagers (approximately 16-19 years old) leaving their island home for different reasons. Two women and three men from different social classes and with diverse backgrounds cast together by fate, escaping the horrible fate of their homeland only by sheer luck. These youths finding themselves cast upon a mostly white continent where they find little respect due to their skin color (dark/black), are viewed as curse-bearers due to their island home’s doom, and still must deal with their own personal sorrows and the anxiety of an unknown future in the companion of strangers.
Forced to work together to brave this unkind and unfair place they find themselves in, Phaedra, Criton, Bandu, Hunter, and Narky spend the first part of this narrative coming together as a group. They (and readers) are introduced to each individual in turn (Every chapter shifts from one of our heroes to another.), learn about each person’s past (specifically the reason why they left home), have their hopes and fears examined, then inevitably clash and reconcile with one another. All of it preparing “The Five” for what lies ahead.
The real epic fun begins when our group finds their way to the mysterious castle (Silent Hall, as if you didn’t already know) of the wizard Psander. There they begin a crash course in this world’s pantheon of gods, different religions, magic systems, and multiple dimensions. This journey of discovery leading to the revelation of their true quest, as our five outcasts set forth on an epic adventure only they can accomplish. The journey taking them to places they never dreamed possible – including personal revelations about life and their place in the world.
Sounds like a classic fantasy story, doesn’t it? A really good one. At least, I thought so. But, now, since I’ve already said the novel was only okay to me I have to explain what I liked and what I did not like about the novel. In other words, I explain why Silent Hall got stuck in the Okay Zone.
Let’s start with the good.
The concept of a group of young strangers coming together, going on adventures with one another, and learning to accept and work with each other is a tried-and-true story which works when crafted correctly. Mr. Dolkart obvious is familiar with the traditional narrative device, using it to good effect as he brings Phaedra, Criton, Bandu, Hunter, and Narky to life before reader’s eyes. Each young outcast growing into a unique individual, driven by their own needs, desires, and fears while dealing with their own foibles. The constant interaction of these people creating lively and tension filled moments as well as giving the author the opportunity to weave in themes of anti-war, anti-bigotry, and other real world social issues into the fantasy tapestry.
As for the bad in Silent Hall, unfortunately, I would have to point to everything else. I will refrain from going into specific details involving the story, because that would require spoilers, but overall, I felt the worldbuilding, pacing, and plot had varying problems which detracted from my enjoyment of the narrative as a whole, no matter how much I enjoyed the main characters. For me (because, hey, this is my opinion after all), the world building was too complex, too confusing, and too aimless. Meanwhile, the plot was too disjointed, too slow, and too lackluster. As for the pacing, it alternated between too fast and too slow. Add in a heaping dose of fantasy subverting (Because we all read sword and sorcery fantasy for that, right?) and you can understand why I only felt this was an okay read.
Overall, Silent Hall is an okay debut from a new author. It definitely has a nice cast of character, who are well-formed and unique, as well as a world which could be whittled into shape quickly, but the story itself was fairly lackluster. I’m sure the next book by N.S. Dolkart will alleviate many of the plot and pacing issues I’ve complained about, as he further hones his obvious talent, and I will definitely be waiting to see where the story takes him next.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.
Eh… well that is kind of a bummer. I went to his signing when his books was released, and really enjoyed the two chapters that he read! Afterward I sent him an email about coming on a blog because of how much I like the preview and him. It does seem like though, that many of your complaints are somewhat common in debut authors and can easily be rectified in the next book.
I’m sure he can straighten things out as the series runs its course. I personally agree with other reviewers like Bob Milne who’ve said the author tried to do too much here, so streamlining things might instantly help matters.
Sometimes, first books seem to compel their authors to cram in everything (including the proverbial kitchen sink) in their eagerness to share with the readers the vision that prompted them to write the book in the first place. While I can emotionally understand this desire, on the rational side it does make for a difficult reading, the kind that becomes, as you said, too “complex, confusing and aimless”. But I also believe that it’s criticism of this kind that helps authors develop their full potential in the long run.
Thanks for sharing!
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