This is yet another self-published ebook by a debut author, the first part of a presumed trilogy, 'The Histories of Atreus'. This one was cheap, but not that cheap (£2+ for each part adds up). As always, such books are a leap into the unknown, but this one is better than most.
The first part of the book is rather ho-hum - a young man learning to be a wizard of sorts as his people are caught up in a war of annihilation. It turns out that his ability is as a necromancer, or raising the dead, and about half way through the book, this talent leads to an unexpected and far more interesting turn of events. This section felt rather odd, like turning a page to find yourself in the middle of a Terry Pratchett book, and I found it hard to take seriously. I also thought the logistics needed more thought. I don't want to give anything away here, but let's just say that it was extremely fortunate for Ezekiel that he had the Elf thinking things through and preparing for the consequences.
The book was quite short, noticeably shorter than the average fantasy, and although it seems churlish to complain about that (most fantasies are way too long), I do feel the story would have benefitted from a slower pace, and a little more depth, both to the characters and to the situations they found themselves in. Charity, Meunig and perhaps Ruth are among those who needed to have their personalities drawn out in greater detail. Charity's decision to leave the safety of the mountains and return to the plains, for example, seemed rather abrupt, and her motivation wasn't as clear as it might have been. This brevity led to a rather flat writing style - 'Ezekiel decided ...' or 'he understood that...' - with very little emotion. This made it hard to engage with the characters, even when they were in terrible danger or suffering physically or mentally. But on the whole, the characters were interesting, with some depth, and all of them felt believable (I particularly liked the Elf). My only reservation was Charity - she felt like the compulsory love interest, with no other real purpose, and her sections seemed rather dull to me.
The story itself is excellent, moving along at a nice steady pace, with some neat twists and turns - nothing wildly original, but none the worse for that. The author makes the point that people are much the same, whichever side of the war they may be on, and there is good and bad on both sides. The magic system is interesting and well thought out, and the created world is believable (what little we saw of it), although the transition from nomadic to settled way of life is perhaps rather too simplistic. Overall, I found this an enjoyable, thought-provoking read, with more substance than many fantasies, and only marred by the emotionless tone of the writing. A good 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. [First written August 2011]