Thursday, January 12, 2012

Catalyst by Marc Johnson

Title: Catalyst
Series: The Passage of Hellsfire
Author: Marc Johnson
Length: 7188 Kindle Units
Rating: 3.5 stars

The Plot

For the first fourteen years of his life, Hellsfire lived with his mother in a small village, barely making ends meet. Then one day, he has a chance encounter with Princess Krystal of Alexandria and saves her from attackers using powerful magic that he did not know he had.

Now Hellsfire must make a journey deep into the mountains, where he must undergo rigorous training to learn to control his newfound power. Because a dark power is trying to take over the land, and Hellsfire may well be the man destined to save all the races from total destruction.

The Good

Catalyst fits into the tradition of epic fantasy that I have not reviewed very much (or at all) so far but that is definitely within the purview of my blog. I’m actually killing two birds here by reviewing a traditional fantasy by a male author. (In case you’ve been wondering, I have not been intentionally leaving out either. The gap is due more to availability than to any kind of statement.)

In true heroic tradition, Hellsfire is a young man with humble origins who, through courage and perseverance, becomes the only person who can save the known world from unspeakable evil. With some prophesies and fireballs thrown in. This is a recurring theme in our stories and legends because we like it. We enjoy watching an everyman character triumph over extreme odds to become the savior of the known universe. It makes us feel as though we, too, can cast off the shackles of our anonymity and slay the evil wizard, should he ever appear.

Also, there was a smartass dragon. More books should have smartass dragons.

The Bad

The main problem with Catalyst stems from the same source as the virtue, which is that we have heard this story many times before. This particular incarnation doesn’t stray very much from the traditional. Hellsfire has a mentor who teaches him in the ways of magic based on the elements. He must ally with the dwarves and elves in order to save the kingdom and its fair princess from the machinations of an evil wizard advisor. It’s not a badly done version of this story by any means, but it is nonetheless the same story.

In a lot of ways, the plot of Catalyst reminded me of an RPG (role-playing game) video game. This is not, strictly speaking, a bad thing. I like RPGs, and Hellfire’s adventures were less frustrating than the events in Dragon Age. It’s just that as I was reading, I felt like Hellsfire was on a quest chain; as soon as he finished doing one thing, an immediate course of action for the next step would present itself. Hellsfire has a vision of Alexandria in danger? As he travels, he runs into a group of elves with similar goals! Trying to gain knowledge and escape from the dungeon? Look, a dwarf prisoner with connections to the dwarf leaders! I found myself imagining how the story would be different if the player character were a girl or if s/he made different choices. This provided me with some entertainment but probably not the kind that the author anticipated.

The Romance

As everyone knows, the crucial scenes for romance in a high fantasy novel, much like in a Jane Austen novel, are the balls. Very sadly, the city/kingdom of Alexandria is in a very precarious situation during all points of the novel that might have been ball-friendly, so the closest we get is a formal dinner. Hellsfire does get to be completely awkward as the only peasant in a room full of nobles and ambassadors. And yet Princess Krystal still comes over to talk to him.

Honestly, I’m not sure what Hellsfire sees in the princess. As a character, she is fairly awesome, willing to do anything for her kingdom and refusing to be defeated. As a love interest, though, I am not so sure. I mean, she is pretty and a princess, so that makes her the shining unattainable star. But in her interactions with him, she is kind of moody. But, then, Hellsfire makes suboptimal decisions and is somewhat inept, so maybe they are appropriately matched. Well, except the whole peasant/princess dichotomy. But I have hopes that that will provide interesting conflict later. With any luck at balls.

Will I read more?

At this point I am thinking most likely not, though I am far from absolutely decided. If the expansion pack… I mean sequel were to hint at a really interesting twist on the traditional story, or maybe were going to include some interesting political machinations (what? I like political machinations in my high fantasy), I might invest.

See Details for Book on    Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Smashwords


Post a Comment