The One Who Would Be King: A Book Of The Lands, by Gareth Blackmore

the-one-who-would-be-king-a-book-of-the-lands-by-gareth-blackmore coverGenre: YA Fantasy
Publisher: Author’s Publishing
Published: 2003
Reviewer Rating: one and a half stars
Book Review by Dennis Kriesel

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Goblin hordes have poured from their domain and spread across The Land. Humans, dwarves, elves, and others find themselves fighting for their lives and lands. However, each nation fights separately against an overwhelming enemy. That is, until Djar (a human prince) and Cookie (a sprite) escape from their goblin captors and set out to unite the nations against the threat. Their adventures involve trolls, wizards, demons, and even a boy from Earth.

The One Who Would Be King is definitely an epic fantasy, but the overall success of the story, despite good support, is shaky at best. First, let’s look at what works.

Blackmore’s constructed world is designed well, and given the importance the world is to epic fantasy, this is no small feat. He has clearly and concisely presented his world’s races and political boundaries. The map within the book is easy to interpret and useful to following the story. Likewise, a glossary of terms included at the end allows an interested reader to obtain the relevant facts regarding an otherwise confusing array of terms and names. Blackmore’s construction and use of these tools is among the best I’ve seen in epic fantasy.

Blackmore also does a decent job of keeping the story focused. Sometimes, epic fantasy authors suffer from a need to provide too much detail (perhaps a side effect of the work they put in on constructing a world). Tedious passages of meandering forest walks are only overwhelmed by even more explicit examinations of every sword, shield, and piece of armor a character sees. Blackmore, while not perfect, does a good job of keeping the lens focused on the story, especially as the book progresses. The story itself is straightforward, but also a solid and interesting concept.

Though all of these tactics are indeed positive, sadly they do not tilt the balance enough to make this what I consider a good book. Spelling errors abound, and not just simple ones easily overlooked by an editor; there are errors that any crude spell-checking software should have been able to catch. These errors are distracting to say the least, but small compared to other problems.

The characters in the book are flat stereotypes. Djar is the young man forced to take responsibility too soon. Cookie is the loyal confidant/romantic interest. Trevor is the noble that hates nobility. Dymorla is the cranky old witch. Fralgarzener is the evil wizard. Zack (the boy from Earth) solely seems to be in the story to throw in terms like “cool” and “awesome” for comic relief. How is a reader supposed to care about such flat people? We get no sense of hopes or dreams, or (especially) flaws versus strengths. Dymorla is the closest to a layered character, in that she is both crotchety and caring. That’s it. Everyone else is a caricature.

Which brings me to dialogue. All I can say is: ugh. The words are stiff and unconvincing; people do not speak this way (and no, I’m not talking about the medieval-sounding words used to signify noble-speak). It’s basically narration with quotation marks wrapped around it. The only real exception is Zack, whose entire character makes little sense (there is no reason to include someone from Earth in the story; Earth plays no role in the plot), but whose stereotypical, prepubescent slang terms are actually presented in a realistic way.

Another problem I had was trying to understand the target market for this book; I’m skeptical it’s intended for adults, but wasn’t able to tell it was anything other than epic fantasy. Is it for children? Blackmore’s writing is too advanced for this to be a mere children’s story. That would lead me to believe it is a young adult novel, but again, though the writing is advanced the story itself is childish (beyond the world-building). The story avoids dealing with any tough emotional issues. Loss, something common to epic fantasy, is almost entirely circumvented in this story. Zack is taken from Earth because his parents are dead, as if a few short paragraphs made it clear to the reader that this simple fact makes Zack a perfect candidate. In fact, the whole idea of Zack missing Earth never really comes up. In addition, almost every death that happens in the book is kept impersonal (e.g., sixty elves died to the goblins) or happens “outside” of the book (e.g., Djar’s father is dead before the story begins, even though he was killed by the goblins in the recent invasion that would have fit well in the novel). These are tactics done to avoid upsetting children, not tactics to present a serious story to a serious reader.

In all, The One Who Would Be King is an unfortunate disappointment. Blackmore has the world down so well, and a story that is at least interesting (and would likely appeal to young adults). However, toss in enough bad dialogue, horrendous spelling errors, and flat characters, while stripping out important emotions, and all you’re left with is an interesting world without any interesting people. Blackmore demonstrates that he has the knowledge and skills to put together a good book; this just is not it. Though it may appeal to younger audiences, or epic fantasy fans who are more concerned about the world than the characters, overall I think most young adult/adult readers will be happier with something else from the epic fantasy sub genre.

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