Have you read this book?
Merilyn F. George’s Curse of the First Gods, the first book in her Chronicles of the Last Elder Lord saga, is the story of Sha’azharet’th, a young Dragon Lord who chooses a path of spirituality over court politics. The Dragon Empire — once a strong, moral, realm powered by Elder Lords — is now a diseased shell rotting from within with decadence, perversion and greed. Sha’azharet’th wants nothing to do with the intrigues of the throne; he wants to become an Elder Lord, an all-powerful magician who has survived a pledge to the First Gods and is rewarded with a covenant with the Gods and a Ring of Power. In recent years, many have tried to become an Elder Lord only to die in the process. With only two Elder Lords left in Ard’dr, Sha’azharet’th’s quest seems like a death wish.
But Sha’azharet’th survives the pledge and, to the surprise of all, becomes an Elder Lord. The transformation only complicates his already tangled life. When the empire is attacked by barbarians, power-hungry politicians and rebel leaders alike plot to secure Sha’azharet’th’s magical abilities.
The story line, however formulaic, quickly deteriorates into sub-par fantasy and I blame that on two fatal flaws: the repetition of the plot and, moreover, the inability of the reader to empathize with the protagonist. As a fugitive of the empire, Sha’azharet’th follows the Gods’ will to realm after realm where he is (all too easily) captured by some two-dimension villain, escapes with the help of a group of forgettable underdogs, then proceeds to (all too easily) kill thousands by conjuring up a natural disaster or two.
My biggest problem was that I not only disliked Sha’azharet’th, I didn’t care whether he lived or died. Don’t get me wrong. I personally love the concept of the flawed hero and have read several novels where, even though the main character is a mass murderer or a dark sorcerer, I care about him or her and want to read on to see what transpires. (Read John Marco’s The Eyes of God, R.A. Salvatore’s Servant of the Shard or Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga.) George’s biggest mistake was creating a character the reader can’t help but dislike. First Sha’azharet’th falls madly in love with his sister and marries her. Even though incest may be culturally acceptable in the fantasy world of Ard’dr, reading about a brother making love to his sister turned my stomach. The author could’ve just as easily made his love interest a cousin without affecting the story at all. Also, for a man who has a holy covenant with his Gods, he almost routinely kills thousands of innocents without any deep remorse whatsoever. And does an Elder Lord whose dead wife was supposedly the love of his life have casual sex with a woman who obviously adores him only to dump her just like that? He even tortures a villain to death slowly over a period of weeks then afterwards reflects about how sickening torture is. I couldn’t help but be repulsed by this callous character.
And who are the First Gods? I would’ve liked to read more about these mysterious deities and their connection with the Elder Lords. How did it all start? Why did they begin their relationship with the Elder Lords? My favorite aspect of this novel was the ability of the Elder Lords to travel to various Gate Worlds (not unlike Zelazny’s Amber realms). The author delves into this early in the novel (with great success!) but then the plot falls into the repetition mentioned earlier.
Although I was very disappointed with Curse of the First Gods, I’m not writing this series off yet. Hopefully George’s second installment of her Chronicles of the Last Elder Lord will give the reader some insight into Sha’azharet’th’s insensitive actions as well as show us more of the Gate Worlds and the history of First Gods.
Paul Goat Allen is the editor of Barnes & Noble’s Explorations science fiction/fantasy book review and is the author of Burning Sticks, Old Winding Way and Warlock Dreams.