Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Last Goddess - C.E. Stalbaum

   2011; 350 pages.  Book 1 of the Shattered Messiah series.   New Author? : No.  Genre : Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The Kirshal, the long-awaited messiah that will free the world’s gods from their present imprisonment, has been found!  At least, that’s what the scavenger Marek claims.  And despite his dubious reputation, he says he has her, albeit in a glass coffin, unconscious but breathing.

    So when Marek offers to sell her to Nathan Rook, a merchant, trader, and most often, “information broker”, it may be Rook’s opportunity for quick and substantial financial gain.  However, a close inspection of “the goods” by Rook and his partners raises some doubts

    Still, it can’t be proven that what Marek has for sale isn’t the Kirshal.  And if it turns out she’s the real deal, whoever has possession of her would stand to make a lot of money.  Or be a target of a lot of assassination attempts.

    Come to think of it, the same would be true even if she’s a clever fake.

What’s To Like...
    The Last Goddess is a fantasy tale, in the “Musket and Magic” subgenre, which I like a lot.  We tag along with Nate and his bodyguards - Van, Rynne, and Tiel – as they try to figure out what to do with the purported messiah.  The central question throughout the book is whether she really is the Kirshal, but that can also be applied to whether the Six Gods are real.  Both are eventually answered.

    The action starts immediately, and continues unabated.  The only pauses are for conversations that flesh out the various characters, which I liked as well.  Besides the main storyline given above, we also follow three other ones: an exiled prince plotting his return, his princess sister trying to avoid an arranged marriage, and a battle-hardened general also seeking to avenge his exile.  This may sound like it’s confusing, but C.E. Stalbaum’s storytelling is up to the task.

    The world-building is complex and interesting.  The weapons are flintlock pistols, crossbows, and of course, the always useful vial of poison.  There are three levels of magic-users: the magi (skilled), the krata (less skilled), and the torbos (no magic abilities at all).  And the use of magic by anyone, no matter how adept, comes at a life-force cost.  I liked that idea.

    I was pleasantly amused by the “sending stones”, a handy little communications system.  I was especially impressed by the handling of the religious systems.  Each deity has its devoted followers, and they all believe theirs is the one true path.  Our own spiritual zealots can learn some lessons here.

    The storyline has a (for me) unexpected twist at about 73%, and everything builds to a nice, if somewhat straightforward, ending.  This is a standalone story, as well as Book 1 in a series.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Screlling (adj.) : The pejorative interjection/adjective equivalent of our own word: “F*cking” (a made-up word from the author and I kinda like it.  It's a nice way to deal with readers who don’t like cursing in their stories)

    “So then I’m just a fool who can’t remember her own name,” she murmured.  “Fantastic.”
    “You’re a victim, not a fool.”
    “That isn’t much better.”
    Rook smiled.  “Sure it is.  Victims can find justice; fools are doomed for life.”  (loc. 6238 )

    Lepton swallowed heavily and continued to shake his head in bewilderment.  Rather than continue to explain, Tryss reached out and embraced him again.  He was, in any tangible sense, the closest thing to a father she’d ever had in her life – maybe even the closest thing to a real parent.  He wasn’t blood; he was something even more important.
    He was family.  (loc. 8512)

Kindle Details...
    ANAICT, The Last Goddess is always free at Amazon.  The other two books in the series, The Last Empress and The Last Sacrifice, sell for $4.99 and $5.99, respectively.  C.E. Stalbaum offers a number of other e-books ranging in price from free to $5.99.  These are all of the Fantasy genre, and some are written under a separate pen name, Jennifer Vale.

 “Naivety. (…)  It’s almost cute when it doesn’t get you killed.”   (loc. 3671)
    The quibbles are minor and are mostly about the structure of the book, not the writing itself.  There’s a map at the beginning of the e-book, but it has an annoying tendency to always be turned 90 degrees clockwise.  There's a very useful Appendix that explains a lot about the world C.E. Stalbaum has created , but it’s at the end of the book.  It really needs to be placed at the front.  Lastly, the Table of Contents formatting is non-existent.  Want to go back to Chapter 10 via it?  Sorry, no can do.

    One small note about the story itself.  Although this is a fantasy story due to the prominent role of magic, there aren’t any fantasy creatures.  Only humans, with the possibility of gods and messiahs.  If you’re in the mood for dragons and hobbits, you'll be in for a bit of a letdown.

    But I pick at nits.  For me, this was a satisfying tale, without any need for otherworldly critters.  I had high expectations from reading another of C.E. Stalbaum’s books (reviewed here), and I wasn’t disappointed.

    8 Stars.  If you like Musket & Magic fantasy series, Book 1 of another one I enjoyed is reviewed here..

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