Among the scattered fringe cities bordering the Cienbal desert, the true name of the Monster of Karth is spoken only in whispers...RAZ I'SYUL ARRO. A sellsword of the utmost caliber, Raz is a killer of paramount skill and highest regard. Towering tall even amongst the atherian, he is the only of his kind to live free in the "civilized" confines of mankind's varied cultures. He has no need of loyalties, his sole affections pledged to the gold crowns that buy his time and skills. Wed to his blades, Raz's only friends are the Moon and Her Stars and the shadows they bring with the night. But Raz was not born to the mercenary's way, to the butchery and battle of day-by-day survival. Raz, like a sword, was hammered from steel and fire and ashy smoke, forged on the ruins of an old life. And Raz knows who he owes this new path to, this carved way of blood and iron. The Monster of Karth, after all, would never forget who gave him that name. And some debts can't be paid in gold....
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Child of the Daystar is the first chapter in the upcoming Wings of War fantasy series. It is also one of the best novels I've experienced this year, and I consider myself an avid reader, one who has hundreds of books under his belt. Author Bryce O'Connor has written a great piece that both entertains and tells a dramatic story, so I heartily recommend anyone to get novel and experience it for themselves.
But first, let me delve a bit deeper into things.
As a whole, the story of the book, while nothing original, is well told and gripping. The pacing is neither frantic, nor plodding but, as another reviewer had said, goes in a kind-of flowing, fluid tempo that serves perfectly to portray the events that happen on page. (And, in the case of the audiobook, the narrator does an excellent job to reflect this - see below) Overall, the plot begins in a more languid pace, then gradually picks up the speed until in the end we have a nice array of action and dramatics.
The setting of the book is nothing to write home about - it is a fairly standard low fantasy, spiced up with some original elements and a hint of post-apocalyptism. The main draw is the geography, the continent where the events take place being separated into two mega-regions - the freezingly-cold North and the blistering-hot South.
The main characters are well-rounded and complex, and their changes during the story are dramatic, evocative, and most importantly, believable. The side and minor characters are also quite varied and have personalities of their own, though the ones introduced later in the story feel a bit two-sided and could've used some more depth. Given that the plot is more character-driven than story-driven, this is a major point which the author has done well; I sincerely felt invested in the characters, particularly Raz.
The plot revolves around the main character, Raz i'Syul Arro, who lives through a traumatic event early in his life that shapes his future and changes him forever. The book spans twenty years of in-world time, split into three large acts. The story as a whole is a typical "Coming of Age" scenario, mixed with a healthy dose of revenge and Punisher-style crime-fighting toward the last third. The book also sports a sub-plot of a sorts, about a woman named Syrah, who plays an integral part in story; afterwards, the events featuring her are somewhat stand-alone, though it is hinted heavily that she will have a larger role later in the series.
Something to note: this is a set-up novel. As such, many of the events developing in the book are made so that they either serve as a catalyst to the characters, or lay the foundations for future plot hooks. That said, the novel can be enjoyed on its own, but expect to have many story seeds left unresolved or hanging if you don't follow up on the series.
One of the more unique aspects of the novel is its protagonist: Raz i'Syul. He is not human; which is not so uncommon thing in fiction, not at all. What's rare is that he is the central hero of the story, the plot's main character; now that is something entirely different. Fantasy and sci-fi fiction has always frequently featured non-humans in their worlds, but in all the books I have read so far, I have never encountered a non-human main character, with the exception of the Chanur novels. As such, I consider the novel doubly more interesting, because this "non-human main character" concept is relatively novel. (Pun semi-intended)
This also brings a whole new facet to the narrative, and it is something that the author has handled expertly. Raz acts human and (mostly) thinks human, because such has been his upbringing; at the same time, he is an atherian (large, lizard-like humanoid), with his own instincts and behaviors and Raz' psyche reflects that - he frequently experiences inner conflict between his human morals and alien nature.
Overall, the novel is greater than the sum of its parts. What makes it so enjoyable to read is the execution; the way the story is told, the complex characters who bring it to life, and the solid prose that delivers the whole narrative in an engaging and organic manner. Also, Raz is super cool and has become one of my new favorite characters.
Regarding the technical presentation of the audiobook, everything is top-notch, with a couple of minor complaints.
The narrator is superb; smooth and professional. He delivers the story with just the right pacing, giving emphasis to the sentences when the narrative dictated. His voice-acting is lively and varied; he conveys emotion excellently, and even his female voices were quite believable. My only personal gripe was the narrator's rendition of Raz' voice, but since I imagine it is quite hard to perform non-human voices, this gets a free pass; in the end, I even came to like Raz' voice and began to identify the character with it, so I reckon it should be portrayed in the same way for the next book.
Now, about the minor complaints: the first one is the pauses between chapters. They could've been a bit longer, so as to be easier to distinguish when a segment of the story came to a conclusion. The second complaint is the way Audible has split the audiobook into two parts - right before the big turning point in the plot. That can either be considered a tool for heightening tension, or an obnoxious annoyance - and I personally fall into the second camp.
Child of the Daystar is the begining of a fantasy series I will follow with great interest. The combination of a unique main character, solid plot, and a promising story arc and setting makes this book one of the better debuts in recent years. The novel is not without flaws, and there were certain parts where the critic inside me pointed out as lacking or not good enough, but these did not in any way diminish my enjoyment of the novel. Considering Mr. O'Connor is a fresh author, his craft can only improve in the future, bringing even better books to come.
Bottom line, if you like fantasy novels, and want a new, fresh series with an unique and likeable main character, then buy Child of the Daystar and keep an eye out for the rest of the books, when they are finished.
This is a wonderful first book. O'Connor is a great writer; the world is interesting, the characters are complex, and he leaves you wanting more. I have read 50 books so far this year (Jan. 1 to Aug. 1) and I would put this in my top 10.