Curse of Kings (The Trails of Oland Born, Book 1) by Alex Barclay
Published by Harper Collins Children’s Books
3.5 out of 5 stars
Format: eGalley (Out now on paperback and hardback here)
The recommendation from Derek Landy on the cover and the apparent (according to the gumf on the back) resemblance to the Hobbit sold me on this one.
The book starts 14 years ago, with King Micah being betrayed by his most trusted and loyal friend (well not so loyal after all), Villus Ren. Villus kills Micah and takes over as ruler of Decresian, a land that flourished under the rule of King Micah but that fades away into ruin under Villus’s control. Villus spends the next 14 years destroying the land and creating the 999 souls that scream all night, every night – 999 people that were failed experiments and left to rot for eternity. Move on to present day, and Orland Born is introduced, a boy that was born the night King Micah was over thrown, and his mother left, leaving only a note saying she’d be back for him one day. So Orland stays, becomes Villus’ servant (and a servant to Villus’ men too), until his 14th year when he betrays Villus’ and finds a letter from King Micah instructing him to go on a blind journey which will help him save Decresian. On his journey, Orland fights against time, science and magic to find true friendship, as well as the truth about his heritage (and its not what you’d think), the royal line.
This book was LONG. I wanted to get it reviewed prior to the release date (1st feb) but I just couldn’t get through it. The second half was better than the first, there was an awful lot of scene setting and preparation for the actual action. The comparisons to Tolkin are, in my opinion, unfounded, and a little misleading. Where Tolkin had the ability to weave sub plots and descriptions into the fold, leading the reader off on a tangent they don’t mind being on, Barclay struggled to engage in places, there was no ‘epic-ness’ to the book, which is what I’d of expected given the size of the book, the premise and the Tolkin comparisons. Thats not to say its bad, but to give it a label such as ‘in the tone of the Hobbit’ is setting it up to fail. There is little magic, which was unexpected, I presumed it’d be sorcerers and witches, and curses, its not -its science, DNA and genetic alterations and manipulations. Nothing wrong with a science based book (or in this case fictional science), but it just wasn’t what I thought it would be.
The story is ok, there is little originality there, but for the target audience there is enough to keep them guessing, and there were things in there I saw coming, but the truth about Oland (who btw I keep wanting to call Orlando- as in Bloom), I did not, and I’m glad it wasn’t going to go down the obvious route. The second half is DEFINITELY better than the first, the journey really gets going and they are up against the clock, and the friendships between Delphi is very gentle, unassuming and heart warming. The world created is a little disappointing, harking back to the Tolkin comparisons, he could create a world that you could see, Barclay’s world is only on paper, there are few mystical creatures (other than those created by Villus’ scientists), the people they meet are all ‘people’ barring the seer’s guards, there is mention of other species or races, but they don’t come into the story at all really. Its almost like the world is there – but you just can’t get to it.
Overall I enjoyed the book, despite it being a little hard to read in places, there were aspects of it dragging. I can’t say I’d rush out to buy book two, but I’d read it if its in the library, I don’t know what was missing, but there was something not there. Barclay has produced a solid, hard working YA debut, it won’t be the next Harry Potter, or even the next Hobbit/LOTR but it’ll do ok, and if you like fantasy with a bit of science, its worth a read.
ARC/eGalley kindly provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review