Ok guys, this is our first review by Graham Austin-King! He is actually working pretty fast through his mini pile that we gave him and he has just one book left in his initial batch of four. I will be sending over potential semi-finalists to him soon!
The Wrack by John Bierce
- Genre: Epic Fantasy
- Magic: Present but not central
- Read: 100%
- Status: Alive
- Review: Graham Austin-King
I was pretty excited to get started with The Wrack. The concept sounded good: a mysterious plague devastating a fantasy world, the cover was a decent standard and the author already had a number of books under his belt, so I felt reasonably secure that the editing would be a good standard.
In many ways I was right in all my assumptions. The Wrack is both an interesting, and a very different book. When I read the description on Goodreads, I knew it was going to be a darker story, and I was not disappointed.
Before I go any further though, I feel I need to give kudos to Bierce for coping with the bloody freaky coincidence of producing a novel about a plague, just as the Coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
The book opens with an introduction of Castle Morinth. The fortress stands guard at the entrance to a mountain pass filled with a twisting maze of pathways and impenetrable mists. As if the maze itself were not bad enough, from the mists flow a steady stream of horrors, monsters, and generally unpleasant baddies. Were it not for the wardens in the castle, they that would roam unchecked across the land, causing death and destruction, and generally ruining family picnics
All good stuff so far, and so when the castle is threatened by the onset of a virulent and deadly disease, you could see how things could go badly.
The Wrack, the disease for which the book is named, leads to intense convulsions, agonised screaming, and assuming you survive, leaves you disfigured and with damaged extremities. All in all, it doesn’t sound like a good time.
The plot of The Wrack essentially follows the spread of the disease and the challenge the world faces in dealing with it.
There is a lot to like about this book. The majority of the prose is good, and Bierce has a nice flowing style to his writing. The detail and thought put into the disease and the impact it has on society is very well thought out. There is also some very good world-building, class and racial discrimination, and a delightfully original magic system that involves eyeballs, a sharp implement, and jewels as replacements.
The book started out, and progressed well, until the first central character died. And maybe that’s problem with it. The story follows the progression of the disease more than it focuses on any particular character. Before I was halfway through I felt like I was left floundering with a cast of characters that I hadn’t really gotten to know very well, and no idea who I was really supposed to be invested in. The pacing seemed to drop off at around the 60% mark and, for me, the book never really recovered.
Perhaps my issues with this book just come down to personal taste, and my own assumptions about where the story was going. Without dumping spoilers and ruining the book for everyone, I suspected that the story was going to develop along the lines of the magic system and then, when big reveal was far more prosaic, I felt a bit cheated. Other than a discovery towards the end of the book the magic is almost entirely superfluous, and the discoveries made could probably have happened another way.
All in all, The Wrack is not a bad book, but it’s not one that blew me away either. I’d say it’s recommended for those that want a read they have to pay attention to, that aren’t afraid of grim topics, and that want something a little different.
SPFBO score 6.5/10