THE EMPRESS OF VENTRA opens with a prologue. A woman of the Forest Folk (who are they?), named Baobh, has committed murder and has snuck back to her village. It turns out Baobh killed the Empress of Ventra (what is Ventra?) and stole the Necklace of Verna (what is Verna?). When confronted, Baobh admits to killing the “Archigos Empress” (what is Archigos?) and states that she’ll “take the throne of Sona Tuath” (what is Sona Tuath?). In this brief scene, we also learn that the murdered Empress is called “Empress Kossi” (boy, this Empress has a lot of names) and that she just had a baby. That’s an overwhelming amount of information for a prologue. The problem is, the book doesn’t hold up under the weight.
World-building is one of the most difficult challenges in fantasy writing. If your world-building is strong, you can get away with a lot of other things that aren’t so strong. But if your world-building is weak, it’s nearly impossible for your reader to suspend disbelief. Many fantasy writers make a similar mistake to the one illustrated above, believing that more—more names, more lands, more everything—is better, when the opposite is usually true, at least at the beginning of a story. They overwhelm their readers at the expense of storytelling and character development. And readers of this book will be overwhelmed.
When the story begins, twenty-four years after the events of the prologue, (human?) Rhiannon Kossi wanders through a portal in a tree, which takes her from her home in Montana back into the (non-Earth) land of her birth, which she, for an unexplained reason, has no memory of. She is greeted by the guardsmen of evil queen Baobh, who capture her. She escapes, meets up with a rebellion army, who, for an unexplained reason, speak with Scottish accents. They recognize Rhiannon as an Archigos person by her physical appearance, and as an Archigos royal in particular, by her last name, Kossi. Rhiannon, for her part, refuses to believe any of this is true, and keeps trying to run off to save her father, who has apparently been kidnapped.
The leader of the rebellion is a “gypsy” (an odd word to find a non-Earth fantasy because it derives from the word “Egypt”) named Flath. Flath is heroic and charming, yet Rhiannon refuses his help at every turn, even though she’s in a dangerous and strange land that she has no knowledge of. War and intrigue ensue, and the book ends with a cliffhanger, setting up a series.
The book got better as it went along, in part because the more I read, the less I was confused by the book’s world, and in part because as the book went on, Rhiannon stopped making such obviously bad decisions. Some of the side-characters were enjoyable, especially those in Flath’s merry band of rebels. Typos did become distracting after a while (e.g., the “long line of massive bowel-like alters”). If you can read any high fantasy novel and enjoy it, give THE EMPRESS OF VENTRA a try. Otherwise, you might be disappointed.
If you can read any high fantasy novel and enjoy it, give THE EMPRESS OF VENTRA a try. Otherwise, you might be disappointed.
The Rating3 Stars (out of 5): Pretty good. Sure, there were some issues, but it was still worth the read.
The Pros & ConsPros: Characterization
Cons: Character Developement, Suspension of Disbelief, Typos