Sebastian and Rain bicker about what they did and didn’t like in A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown, a fantasy novel by a black author that was inspired by West African folklore.
In a moment I’ll hand over to Sebastian and Rain to chat about it. In case you haven’t met them, Rain is my reader half and Sebastian is my writer half. I should warn you Sebastian is a bit of a prat, but I hope you don’t hold that against him.
The advantage of setting Sebastian and Rain loose rather than trying to write a review is that this way I don’t have to decide what I think about the book.
Rain pretends to drop dead with surprise.
Rain: I didn’t expect you to be that blown away.
Sebastian: I’m not so much of a snob I can’t enjoy a well-crafted fantasy novel.
Rain: You said it, not me. What impressed you so much?
Sebastian: The first thing had to be the setting. I don’t know if I’ve read a book before that was inspired by West African folklore, but the setting was so rich and unusual. I don’t know how to explain this, but it didn’t feel like a writer raised on medieval European fantasy settings trying to do something different. It felt like it was born from a different worldview. I think it’s a stellar example of how to create a world that feels different–in a good way.
Rain: I loved that too. I met so many words I didn’t know–strange animals, spirits, mythical creatures, roles in society, everything–that it felt like another world. I can’t say it was all the Western African influence because I don’t know what came from folklore and what the author made up, but it didn’t matter. I loved it.
Sebastian: If you’re just going to repeat what I said there’s no point me being here.
Rain: Don’t be a git. I was agreeing with you. So you liked the worldbuilding. What else?
Sebastian: The story was cleverly set up. One one hand you have Malik, who the reader sympathises with, who needs to kill Karina to save his sister. On the other hand you have Karina, who the reader sympathises with–
Rain: More or less.
Sebastian: Well, enough. And she has to kill Malik to resurrect her mother. Immediate tension. And then they start to fall for each other…
Rain: I honestly didn’t know who I wanted to win.
Sebastian: It was a clever set-up with a lot of potential that wasn’t wasted. The whole story pushed forward, and the series of twists and revelations near the end was breathtaking. Even though I saw a lot of them coming.
Rain: You did not.
Sebastian: I saw some of them coming.
Rain: I liked the twists too, though I got a bit confused at times. A lot was going on, especially in the last quarter. I thought the middle got a bit slow in places, but then it picked up and the last 25 percent was bang, bang, bang. And the ending was satisfying, which is important.
Sebastian: You could tell the author was keeping a lot of things open for the next book, but yes, the main story questions were resolved, and the resolutions felt right.
Rain: And someone was even left alive to be in the next book, though it was dubious for a while. So if you liked all that, what do you want to complain about?
Sebastian: You make it sound like I always complain about something.
Rain: You do.
Sebastian: Only because I’m trying to be helpful. This time it was the editing. Overall I thought the writing was very solid, but in places it fell into the usual traps.
Rain: Like what?
Sebastian: Unnecessarily filtering things through the character’s senses. That sort of thing.
Rain: You mean the sort of thing no one but you notices.
Sebastian: I can’t help it that you have no appreciation for quality writing. And then there were a few pieces of dialogue that threw me out of the story–snippets of modern slang that didn’t fit.
Rain: I noticed those too. But you know what bothered me more?
Sebastian: This is going to be stupid.
Rain: Two things, and they’re not stupid. I couldn’t figure out how old Malik was. Maybe the author said somewhere and I missed it, but it was disorientating. His little sister was six, and for a while I assumed he was about twelve because I thought he acted like he was twelve, but then he got romantic with Karina, who was seventeen. So he probably wasn’t twelve.
Sebastian: Yep, stupid. What else?
Rain: It bugged me that the main story problem was caused by an obviously terrible decision. You DO NOT offer to do absolutely anything for someone, no matter what they’re giving you in exchange. You find out what they want, and offer them that. It made me want to tear my hair out.
Sebastian: And it happened twice.
Rain: True, but it didn’t matter as much the other time.
Sebastian: You could see why Malik did it, though. Wouldn’t you do anything to save your sister?
Rain: He didn’t even try to find other options! And he hardly blinked when his other sister was dragged away to probably be executed.
Sebastian: That’s not true at all. And don’t forget what he was in the middle of.
Rain: It feels true.
Sebastian: I think you’re being too harsh.
Rain: It’s funny you say that, because I loved this book. Maybe because the characters felt like real people I hold them to a different standard.
Sebastian: That makes no sense. One thing I forgot–we didn’t talk about the themes.
Rain: It had themes?
Sebastian: Oppression featured strongly, and the question of how far you’ll go for your family.
Rain: Okay, so it had themes, but the author didn’t whack me over the head with them. I can live with that.
Sebastian: I thought they were pervasive, but not to the point of being preachy or detracting from the story.
Rain: The perfect sort of themes.
Have you read A Song of Wraiths and Ruin? What did you think? If you haven’t you should–as well as having a great title it’s a thoroughly enjoyable book.
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