Sunday, November 3, 2013

A World Apart & Sword of Light (Jake Thomas Trilogy 1-2) by Steven A. Tolle

Synopsis: A World Apart is the exciting first book in the Jake Thomas Trilogy.

Jake Thomas thought he was having a bad day. An after-school encounter with a long-time rival had left him angry and dismayed, but little did he know that before the day was done, his life would be changed forever.

Suddenly and mysteriously transported to another world, he finds himself alone and without a clue how or why he was brought here. Cut off from his familiar surroundings, he has to find a way to survive and return home.

Soon after he begins to explore this new world, he meets an enigmatic warrior and is introduced to magic-wielding clerics. However, Jake finds out quickly that danger lurks all around him as demons exist on this world - and they want him badly!

The descriptions used to describe the world are of a good length. There is always plenty of information to allow a reader to really see the details of what the characters are seeing and doing, but they are not so lengthy that the pacing of the story suffers.

The author also does a good job of recapping events, for example if a character is asked to describe something that happened to them earlier in the story. In these cases, we as the reader do not need much detail and the author just gives a few lines of reminders.

The only part of the descriptions I found lacking was when the main character is being taught something, we are often told that the other characters tell him how to hold a sword, maintain a furnace or use magic but these details are never given to the reader and it left me feeling I was missing out.

The story, world and characters aren’t original, most of it has been seen before in some form. The basic story is that the main character is from our world, he is at school where he has some troubles, although he’s not quite the outsider seen in most books like this. He is magically transported to a fantasy world; the world itself is your typical European medieval fantasy setting, complete with knights, kings, a beautiful princess and an evil being bent on destroying everything.

Once there the main character turns out to be the chosen one, foretold of by a mysterious prophecy. He then begins his training by a tough warrior, who really has our hero’s best interests at heart, has a softer side underneath that gruff exterior and has the compulsory tragic past. After some training the hero is called upon to defeat a dangerous foe.

The characters are pretty standard as well. There was nothing really dislikeable with any of them, it was just everyone is someone I have seen before, many times in a fantasy novel.

One problem was that just about every good character was too nice, they would always say kind things, insist on being the one that pays for the bill, always offer and try to help everyone, be prepared to sacrifice themselves to save someone else, hug and have tears in their eyes when thanking someone. While it maybe okay to have one ‘perfect’ character in a story, when everyone is like that it just makes it dull. It also makes what they do less special since everyone is prepared to do the same thing.

There are one or two characters that break the perfect mold, although these tend to be very minor characters and their rarity doesn’t alleviate the problem with the rest of the cast.

We are given a glimpse of some of the evil characters, and in a similar problem to the good characters they seem to be wholly evil with nothing good to say about them. This gives them less depth.

There is nothing special about the magic system either. It is just flashy lights to blast enemies or heal friends.

There is a heavy Christian theme throughout the book, while the religion in the world our character enters isn’t actually Christian there are many very strong parallels and it is really Christian in all but name. In fact it is so close it is just another example of the books unoriginality.

For the most part the pacing is good, with a nice balance between action and scenes with more depth to them. There was a bit of a slowdown mid-book when the main character was in training without a great deal of action or major plot development but it didn’t last too long.

I read the Nook version of this book and there was some issue with the presentation that caused the text to be center aligned. The lines were also often broken mid-sentence half way across the page and only continued on the next line. This was sometimes a distraction and would pull me out of the story, the worst part was that it would often make dialogue confusing as it was often unclear who was speaking since you couldn’t tell if the new line of dialogue was on the same paragraph as the last one.

Another issue with the presentation, which may be in the printed book as well, was that the author didn’t use the standard use of punctuation for dialogue. I found this to be distracting and it would often pull me out of the story as I noticed these mistakes.

There was some swearing, violent scenes and references to sexual content, mostly implications or threats of rape (although no details are given), making this book unsuitable for younger readers. It is probably aimed at a young adult audience rather than middle-grade.

Overall I did enjoy the story, and if Goodreads allowed half stars I would have given it a 3 ½ rating. The descriptions were of an excellent quality and the story was enjoyable. The unoriginality of most of the elements is what hurt it the most.

I have read the second book in this series and feel that it was so strong I would recommend this series overall.

In full disclosure I won the second book in this series in a Goodreads giveaway.

Synopsis: Sword of Light, Book 2 of the Jake Thomas Trilogy, continues Jake's quest to return home.  Dominic and Jonas lead Hailyn, Marcus and Keria out of the demons’ stronghold, carrying Jake, who collapsed after his dramatic display of power. Jonas is stymied on how to heal Jake, but help arrives when Tomaris unexpectedly shows up in Sanduas.  Tomaris informs them that he believes that he has found a way to return Jake to his world – with the Guardian’s sword, an object of great power. When the demons first appeared a thousand years ago, the Guardian had confronted them, but was defeated and the sword lost. Standing in the way of any effort to recover the sword are two seemingly insurmountable obstacles – it is being defended by the demons and its exact location is unknown.  Following obscure clues, Jake, Dominic, and Hailyn go in search for the sword, trying to approach unnoticed by the demons. Jonas, Marcus and Keria remain in Sanduas and are confronted by a growing darkness that threatens the city itself. Lurking in the shadows, the mysterious figure from Creatos’ lair moves to protect the sword and find Jake

The descriptions are very good, there are plenty of details allowing the reader to fully imagine the world and follow the story. The details do not go on for too long, and when short descriptions or summaries of conversations will suffice the author uses them and the pacing of the story never suffers due to too long descriptions.

I felt the characters were stronger in this book. They were more fleshed out and had more interesting personalities. Just like the first book in the series, the good characters did suffer from being too nice. They all almost always say nice things to one another, always are prepared to help someone, risk their lives and sacrifice them for anyone even if they have only just met them. By having everyone act like this makes the characters less diverse and interesting. It also makes anyone who does these things less special since you know that everyone acts in the same way.

Likewise all of the evil characters are completely evil, they all enjoy killing, forcing themselves on women, desire power and have little loyalty to those around them. This makes them less interesting and none of the evil people stand out since they all act in the same way. It was also annoying that (Spoiler ahead, highlight to read)all evil characters had been corrupted by demons. It would be more realistic if some people were just evil by themselves. End of Spoiler.

Characters also had a tendency to ‘just know’ something and their instincts would always be right. This was hard to believe and wasn’t always the best way for characters to solve a problem or know what to do next.

The first half of the book had plenty of story, plot and character development, but there was virtually no action. There were some tense scenes which could have led to action but these never turned out that way. It would have been nice to have seen Dominic’s part of the story at this point as this would have provided some much needed excitement.

The last part of the book was perhaps a little heavy in action. There are still some character and plot scenes but the vast majority of them were action based. Some of them were too similar to each other and I found myself suffering from ‘battle fatigue’ and wanting something a little more diverse and thought provoking.

The religious element is again strong, it is not overpowering but it is usually present.

There was more originality in this book compared to the first one. It is by no means an original story but it didn’t suffer as badly as the first one. We also get to see more of the world and cultures adding more interesting things and originality to the book.

The romance part is nice, it is not a large part of the story allowing a reader to enjoy the book if they are not interested in this sort of thing, but it is believable, people feelings are realistic and it is developed well.

All three main storylines were well written and interesting, and I found myself simultaneously wanting to read the current POV and to switch to one of the others as they were all so good.

Just like the first book the dialogue was incorrectly punctuated, most of the time this was just annoying and distracting, and would pull me out of the story, but sometimes it made it hard to follow who was speaking.

There was some swearing, violent scenes and references to sexual content, mostly implications or threats of rape (although no details are given), making this book unsuitable for younger readers. It is probably aimed at a young adult audience rather than middle-grade.

In full disclosure I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

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