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So… you want to write a fantasy novel?

I reviewed Raining Embers for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

I reviewed Raining Embers for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

I know! You could have a medieval-type world where the Dark Lord, once thought defeated, now returns to gather his [why is it always his?] dark forces. The end of the world (or at least the bits we like with, you know, dashing heroes, and good sanitation, and of course ice cream…) is at hand. But wait! Although raised in secrecy with no knowledge of his true destiny, our Hero gathers a devoted but motley band, some Shitastic Artifact/ Ring of Power/ Awesome Sword-thingie, and they all proceed to kick Dark Force butt, after which Hero manages to personally defeat the Dark Lord, probably in one-on-one combat.

  • If this story occurs over 27 volumes, it is high fantasy
  • If the Shitastic Artifact/ Ring of Power/ Awesome Sword-thingies are for that night’s D&D tournament, it is low fantasy.
  • If Hero turns out the be The One, hidden heir to the kingdom, who must assemble the devoted but motley band to aid in restoring him to the throne, it is quest fantasy.
  • If Hero has a magic horse/dragon/flying creature, plus he finds a snarky but brave girl who is surprisingly good with a sword, but nevertheless needs to be rescued with depressing regularity, after which they have sex (or if it’s YA they have a Moment and maybe even a Kiss) on horse/dragon/flying creature-back, it’s fantasy romance.
  • If Hero has a fairy godmother, three wishes, or a super-mean stepmother, it is a fairy tale and Hero has absolutely no business doing anything of the sort on a horse because if the PTA gets hold of this, Hero’s story will be banned and his name will show up on registered sex-offender sites.
  • If Hero meets talking animals who help demonstrate a Universal Truth (like “i before e, Except after c, Or when sounded as “a,”As in neighbour and weigh.” or “If it seems too good to be true it’s probably an election year”) it’s a fable. (Not to be confused with Classic Truth “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (1813).)
  • If Hero is rescued by two brothers named Sam and Dean, it’s fanfiction. Most probably really bad fanfiction…

Only… okay. So that’s been done from Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter and everything in between. That’s the good thing about tropes like this. When done right, they are absolutely magic. And a heck of a lot of fun.

Please join me below for a review of how author Jessica Dall handles these choices in her newly released epic fantasy, Raining Embers.

Fantasy rescue

[image credit: “God Speed!” by Edmund Leighton (1900)]


raining-embersPalmer Tash always follows the path of least resistance. He has an unusual disability involving his hearing. But in theocratic Latysia, being different isn’t a good thing, so he conceals his problem. Brier Chastain’s malady is even more debilitating, and she often must take to her bed for long periods. Her days are spent in meaningless pursuits as she awaits an arranged marriage. When Palmer and Brier are kidnapped on the same night, they meet and discover that their so-called disabilities are actually budding powers. They are the incarnations of Order and Chaos. With their country on the brink of war, the two must step into their predestined roles and learn to take control of their own destinies.


gold starMy Review: Raining Embers (Order and Chaos) (Volume 1) by Jessica Dall

I was intrigued to read in the blurb for Raining Embers that the two main characters have grown up with challenging disabilities. Fantasy is a favorite genre of mine, especially epic fantasy. But after Lord of the Rings defined it, after series from the Belgariad to Harry Potter refined it, and after Star Wars took it into space, it’s got to be a challenge to extend the tropes into new territory. So how did Raining Embers score on the standard elements of epic fantasy?

  • World building? On the one hand, I liked the research and the Italian-influenced descriptions of Palmer and Brier’s world. But setting the story in what is basically medieval Italy means it skirts dangerously close to the sort of “by their haircolor shall you know them” profiling.
  • Plucky but motley band? Not. At least in this volume, the “band” is limited to the two main characters and the mysterious child they collect along the way. Brier is never sure what she feels for Palmer. We are never sure what Palmer feels for anyone. And the child Rosette is such an enigma that we don’t even know if she has human feelings.
  • Politics? With the fate of the city-state of Latysia hanging in the balance, with forces struggling to control the powers of reincarnated gods, and with those powers potentially capable of destroying the entire world, the stakes are definitely and suitably epic. But again…opportunities missed. The prize for the forces struggling for control is the vast wealth amassed by the Church. But the Church never really rises to the level of politically savvy machinations and control exhibited by…say, the Catholic Church in medieval Italy. Instead, the Church basically folds tents and disappears at the first sign of challenge, while the power plays of the other forces are clumsy and impersonal.
  • Big Bad Dark Forces? I think one of the book’s greatest achievements is the main characters’ slow realization that the biggest, scariest, most dangerous things out there might just be themselves. This is nicely done, because it means that although the stakes are high, the real villains are shown in their petty power-hungry greed while the real conflict turns out to be between the two truly deadly and terrifying entities and if/how to harness their own burgeoning powers.
  • Hobbit? I never really figured out what the little girl, Rosette, was there for, although I suspect her role will be important in future books in the series. Given her tiny size and apparent dissociation from regular human life, I’d call her the Hobbit of this series.
Jessica Dall is the author of such novels as Off Book and The Copper Witch along with a number of short stories that have appeared in both literary magazines and anthologies. When not writing, she works as an editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC.

Jessica Dall is the author of such novels as Off Book and The Copper Witch along with a number of short stories that have appeared in both literary magazines and anthologies. When not writing, she works as an editor and creative writing teacher in Washington, DC.

After wondering how main characters with disabilities would fit with the standard tropes of the genre, I was a little disappointed to hear that when Brier and Palmer discovered that they were the reincarnated gods of Chaos and Order, their disabilities disappeared. Not only did I not really understand the reason for their disabilities in the first place, but I felt that the author had missed an opportunity to give depth to characters who were otherwise basically gods by showing how they dealt with their disabilities. The god of Order who is virtually omniscient but who can only hear one sound at a time? The goddess of Chaos who controls destruction and death itself but who is prostrated by the smell of every living thing rotting toward inevitable death? Two all-powerful beings who were only around because they managed to hijack the bodies of children who died? Wouldn’t all that provide some dark, interesting, convoluted character development opportunities?

There were some intriguing supporting characters such as Cerise Filou, the beautiful, brave, and often evil shapechanger. But the love triangle setup with Brier, Palmer, and her childhood friend/fiance Nico felt forced, like a deus ex machina reason for postponing action. And somehow I didn’t feel a strong empathy for any of the characters. I get that their situation was dire, but their absolute and unwavering preoccupation with themselves was like being trapped in a never-ending Asperger’s support group with signs on the walls to remind that Shit just got real people.

Overall, Raining Embers is a solid, beautifully edited novel that tells a good story but misses chances to tell a great one. The action starts very slowly, and although it picks up about half way through, there are elements such as the forced love triangle that seem to serve no purpose other than to delay taking actions. But the author does introduce potential storylines for support characters as well as a convincing backstory, while nicely closing the story arc on this first book in the series. I’d give Raining Embers three and a half stars and look forward to other books by this author.

***I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.***

  • Book Title: Raining Embers (Order and Chaos) (Volume 1)
  • Author: Jessica Dall
  • Genre: Epic fantasy
  • Publisher: Red Adept Publishing (October 2, 2015)
  • Pages: 276


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