Saturday, 7 June 2014

Uprising by Sarah Cawkwell

Uprising by Sarah Cawkwell is the first book in the Heirs of the Demon King series. It's set in an alternate historical timeline where magic and demons cause changes to English history as we know it. The blurb from goodreads:
Epic fantasy meets alternate history in a sweeping saga that crosses the medieval world. Matthias Eynon must escape the clutches the Witchhunters and locate the masters of the four magic arts to overthrow the tyrannical Demon King, descendant of the twisted Richard III.

Mathias Eynon's dreams were small. A dabbler in magic, and son of a magician, he expected to live in obscurity in his home in the Welsh hills, quietly conducting his experiments and hoping not to draw too much attention to himself.

But fate has other plans for him. It is the Year of Our Lord Fifteen-Ninety, and a revolution is quietly brewing, here and further abroad. Richard V has overstayed his rule, some say; others whisper that the whole line of Demon Kings must be burned out. Mathias son of a man executed for the practice of magic, forbidden by the paranoid king is set to become a symbol, and a leader.

And to do that, he needs champions. A wise woman sends him to the corners of the known world to the frozen lands of the Danes, to the pirate-haunted ports of Spain, to the mountains of the German Empire, to the burning sands of the Holy Land to bring back masters of the four magic arts. With the best and brightest of Richard's Witch Hunters on his heels, he sets out to gather his allies.
It's a long blurb, but I wanted to include it because Uprising has two main characters Mathias, who is mentioned above at length and Tagan, who maybe doesn't get as many as many point-of-view scenes, but is just as important to the plot. She's not even mentioned in the blurb as a love interest (which she also is)! I didn't like Tagan as a character, but now I'm outraged on her behalf. Poor Tagan. Moving on.

Uprising diverges from real-world historical events thusly: Richard the Lionhearted brings magic back from the Crusades (then dies). Magic spreads throughout England (and Wales) and is eventually outlawed more or less because the peasants were getting too uppity. When the War of the Roses comes along and Richard III is about to be defeated, he makes a pact with a demon to win. So Henry Tudor is defeated and Richard III's offspring get lumped with the demon curse/pact. The actual action is set in the time of Richard V. Mathias and Tagan go on a quest to save the world. Most of the story is their journey and their being surprised at how different everything is from Wales. Also, we are repeatedly reminded that they're Welsh (actually, that was mostly amusing).

This was not the worst book I've ever read. But it was far from the best. I chose to read it because I thought I should branch out from my usual fare of Aussie-authored fantasy; a decision I now regret. It was a hard slog to read. This was not helped by the fact that it essentially had two prologues: an excerpt from a history book followed by Richard III making his pact with a demon, the latter taking place about 100 years before the main action. It was not a short prologue and I was already finding the book tedious by the time I got to chapter one. I had hoped that things would pick up then, but they did not. I have to admit, I ended up making my iPad read the book to me while I did something else with my hands. If I hadn't had that option, I probably wouldn't've finished it.

The main problems are that the prose just isn't interestingly written. There's more telling than there should be (rather than showing). Then, even when interesting things were happening, I found myself getting annoyed at mainly Tagan and Mathias for being naïve and shocked easily. Tagan, especially, was often patronised and — unrelatedly — set her jaw determinedly an awful lot. I also didn't like their courtship at the start (they were betrothed for most of the book, I think from the very start) which was a bit stilted, awkward and patronising, none of those in an endearing way.

So, to summarise, I did not like Uprising and I will definitely not be suffering through the sequel. I am a bit torn as to how many stars to give it, though, since it was technically not so bad (Cawkwell can string sentences together competently, that was never an issue); it's main flaw was not being engagingly written. I suppose since I'm tossing up between 2 and 3 stars I'll split the difference. Suffice to say, I don't recommend this book. If anything, it has confirmed my fears about branching out geographically to new BFF authors.

2.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2014, Abaddon Books
Series: Heirs of the Demon King book 1 of (I'm assuimg) 3
Format read: eARC
Source: Review copy from the publisher

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