Farmers and Mercenaries (Genesis of Oblivion Saga #1) by Maxwell Alexander Drake

Farmers and Mercenaries, the first book in the Genesis of Oblivion saga, introduces us to the world of Talic’Nauth. Talic’Nauth is ruled by the Essence—the life force that dwells within all things. The Essence can be drawn upon by the Shapers, those with the ability to see and manipulate this life force.  Alant Cor, our first protagonist in a set of three wait-and-see-how-they’re-related tales, is an Initiate to the Shapers. Alant finds himself called to the fabled Isle of Elmorr’eth, home to the Elmorians.  The Elmorians are an alien-like race who many believe to be beings of the Essence and thus can grasp the Essence better any human alive. However, when Alant reaches Isle of Elmorr’eth, the suspense and mystery is only beginning, and events unfold that cast his formerly held beliefs into question. Soon he discovers a plot concerning himself and the other human Initiates. Are they really there as guests, or as test subjects for possibly disastrous and apocalyptic plans?

Alant’s brother, Arderi Cor, has just turned sixteen and is tested for Shaper abilities. When his test goes inexplicably awry, he flees from home. Arderi stows away with a band of mercenaries, led by Clytus Rillion, a man on the hunt of a legendary beast—a beast whose blood is the only thing that can save his dying son. Yet, Clytus is more than what he appears to be, for he is Tat’Sujen, a member of a small group of humans with an ability similar to that of the Shapers, only far more powerful and rare. Arendi soon finds out that he also possesses this ability, a fact that will change his life forever.

Finally, we meet Klain, who has never known freedom. He is a Kithian, a beastly race of lion-like humanoids, abducted by humans and taught to be a gladiator for amusement. When he learns that his master now intends to have him killed, he resigns himself to fate but refuses to go quietly. However, when he is saved by a mysterious Elmorian, Klain struggles with the concept of his new-found freedom and all that it entails for his life.

These three stories, told in alternating chapters, are presented in a day-of-the-life-in style. The lives of the characters seem unrelated, yet the reader feels an overarching sense that the strings of destiny are being pulled for Alant, Clytus, Arderi, and Klain.

Told by a Master
Drake is a master storyteller, crafting an amazingly organic tale. I put the book down and wanted to dive right into the sequel, but I had to come here to write this review first! If I ever started to get a tingle of anticipation hoping that something would happen, it happened. Not because it was predictable, but because the story had reached a turning point and unfolded accordingly. Instead of pressing the story onwards to tell it in the way he wished it to be told, Drake lets the story flow  so beautifully that I’m surprised this novel isn’t all the buzz right now. There is no pushing the character in one direction when he obviously wants to go in another, no forcing a character to say something he would never say—it all flows naturally, and that is awesome.

An Amazing, Fleshed-Out World
While we do not get to see much of Talic’Nauth, I consistently felt that the author knew exactly where he was going with the story, as if I could ask him to name a random town or village and he would know every single detail about it—who lived there, how they were governed, what they did for income, and everything else anyone could possibly want to know about it. Despite the fact that I had never been to this world or heard of it before,  I never struggled to catch up with the people who had lived their entire lives in Talic’Nauth. I find myself incredibly excited to find out more regarding the world, and cannot wait to read the sequel, which I hope more will be fleshed out. The possibilities of Drake’s world seem endless, and I am eager to see how the author continues to shape it.

Info-dumps—Oh no!
Unfortunately, there are quite a few info-dumps in this novel, which is one of the things I dislike most when reading. I don’t want to see one character ask another about his day and then have his reply be: “Well, Sam, I had an alright day, but here’s four pages about my past and why I’m fighting this war.” I want the information to come to me naturally, not to have it thrust upon me like a lecture—and that happens in this novel quite a few times. All of the information given to the reader has merit, but it could have been presented in a way that flows better with the story.

There are also few cliché scenes in this novel—such as pounding the ground in frustration or shouting up at the Heavens asking “Why!?”—that felt a little comical to me whenever they popped up. I wanted to just go down and slap some sense into the character and say, “You do know that’s been done like a million times, right?”

Dull Characters
While the characters are interesting, I rarely felt myself caring deeply for them. For example, when a certain character died, I felt absolutely nothing – not a tear down my cheek or even a slight tinge of sadness – and I know that I should have felt something, but it just wasn’t there. While I enjoyed reading every single part that included them, I felt that the characters could have been expanded upon a little bit more; for example, I wanted more details about their lives, so we could get to know them as people instead of as actors fulfilling roles in a play.

One exception to this lack of detail, however, is Klain’s character. His story was fantastic and I wished that he appeared more in this novel than Arendi and Clytus, who take up most of the text. I know that the characters will grow on me if they are better developed in the sequels, and if Drake does this while giving us more Klain, I will be one ecstatic reader.

Why should you read this book?
Why shouldn’t you is the better question. This novel is a compelling start to an epic series that I will be following devoutly until its completion; a story rich with originality and wonder, whose characters have vast untapped potential. The plot flows with natural, well-crafted rhythm and the vibrant world yearns to be further explored. Farmers and Mercenaries is a completely mesmerizing tale.

James received a review copy of this book courtesy of Imagined Interprises.

About James Starke

James Starke
James is 21 years old and has been described as many things in life – pop music lover, book nerd, movie geek, cookie nommer, bookshelf filler, tortured writer, tech dork, television watcher, webcomic addict, fierce supermodel, crazy cat lady, musical fanatic, a loyal Hufflepuff, GLEEk to the Nth degree, pizza eater, future librarian, a horrible procrastinator, Poké-freak, eyeglass wearer, a lover of the arts, and a zombie unicorn that sparkles in the night (well, actually that might’ve just been once). He prefers to describe himself as “a man of odd enthusiasms.”

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