As the evil empire of Koth tightens its stranglehold, the last dreams of freedom are fading within the peoples of Urth. A single glimmer of hope remains—a legend—of a king who has been sleeping for the past five thousand years.
If he exists and if he can be found, he might be able to defeat the mighty Kothite Empire. The task falls to a pair of untried teens, chosen from opposite ends of the empire by unseen forces beyond the realm of Man, Will Cobb from Hickory Hollow and Raina of Tyrel.
As the Prophecy of the End gathers force, it calls more and more adventurers to it. They must navigate treacherous adversaries and the even more treacherous reach of the Kothites in their search. Together, the companions must find the truth before the Empire finds and crushes them.
A legend. A king. A boy and a girl. Called forth to save them all.
Source: ARC from Tor Books via NetGalley
If you like traditional epic fantasy with humans and elves and orcs and magic and prophecies and orphans with Great Destinies, then this book is for you. There is a lot of world-building to be done at the start of this book (despite it taking place on a planet named Urth), laying down the foundations of the terrible empire with its immortal Emperor who can read the thoughts of his subjects – all the better to keep them in line. There’s also a deep political plot to be laid, with ambitious politicians, a terrible prophecy and a recently conquered land that is wild and refusing to be tamed.
From there the book splits into multiple characters, with different plot strands pulling in all directions, as the story slowly unfolds. Those familiar with epic fantasy will be completely at home with a book like this. The world is detailed and the politics are nicely snarled, while the many characters are possibly not as multifaceted as I might have liked. Most of the main characters involved with the quest to find the Sleeping King are teenagers. There’s Will, the country boy who doesn’t realise his own secret history, and Raina, the talented healer who runs away from home. There’s also another young healer, Rosana, whose path crosses with Will’s, not to mention a wood elf called Cicero, who inadvertently becomes Raina’s protector. Add in a young lord, his sword-fighting best friend and a lizard girl and the motley crew is complete.
Or at least, it is eventually, but it takes a fair chunk of the novel before these various story lines intersect. Alongside them there’s also the villainous governor, the powerful heir to the empire, a minor queen, a local lord, an archmage elf and an assassin. Like I said, multiple characters, some of which play a greater role in this book than others.
The plot is pretty slow moving all the way through, building up the world and setting up the characters, then outlining the quest. I have to admit a couple of the characters – namely the ones at the Emperor’s court – didn’t really add a lot to this book, except confusion. For me, anyway. Whenever Gabrielle showed up I had to think hard to remember who she was and why I should care. Thankfully she doesn’t appear often. Away from that the good people are almost entirely good, while the bad people are thoroughly bad. With the exception of one of the elves, but since he holds his honour very high, then I suppose he is also good by his own interpretation. The addition of orcs attempts to muddy the waters with regard to prejudice and warfare, but since the orcs themselves are all seemingly brutish warriors, this didn’t make as much of an impact as it could have done.
There’s a lot of travelling in this tale, not to mention a lot of injuries that go away very quickly – whether they’ve been magically healed or not. One particular character seems to be at death’s door for a great chunk of the book, but still manages to do remarkable things. However, there was one thing that I did find fascinating and that was death: it’s rarely permanent. Healers can grab a departing spirit and bring it back to a body, or if that fails the spirit can be resurrected through spells or via a Heartstone, manifesting a new body if needs be.
This makes more sense when I found out this book/world is based on an RPG, and this concept fits in really well with a game idea, but I still found it intriguing how death – or lack thereof – was incorporated into this world. Not that this stops characters from dying completely, of course. Especially if it’s more convenient for them to do so, like friends and family members whose loss will push the heroic characters onto new feats of heroism and endurance. I still liked it, though.
Overall, there’s nothing much new or surprising here. The world is nicely detailed, while falling into the familiar forms of the genre. The characters too are what I would expect from this sort of book, with the male ones being strong and warlike, while the female ones are healers and political manipulators – unless she’s a lizard, in which case she can be warlike too. The plot is enjoyable and I did find the whole thing thoroughly readable, but if you don’t like epic fantasy then you probably won’t like this. If, however, you love RPG and Tolkien-esque worlds, then this is definitely aimed at you. Don’t expect any surprises and you’ll enjoy it just fine. I would certainly like to read whatever happens next, since this tale is far from over yet.
The Sleeping King is out September 8th!
Visit Cindy Dees for more details.