Servant of a Dark God is the beginning of an epic fantasy trilogy by John Brown. The second book in the Dark Gods series, Curse of a Dark God, will be released in January 2011. Dark God’s Glory, the final novel, will be available in 2012.
Talen has a big problem – he can’t find his work pants, the only pair of pants he owns other than one pair of good trousers. Knowing no one would want his grungy old work clothes other than a mischievous brother and sister, he hides an item belonging to each of his siblings. When River discovers her honey is missing and Ke cannot find his bowstrings, Talen confronts them about his disappearing clothing only to be chased out of the house and into a tree where they are found by his father. His father believes River and Ke when they insist they had nothing to do with Talen’s half-dressed state, accuses Talen of negligence and sends him to town with his good clothing to buy some hens.
As Talen nears the town, he worries when he sees no children playing or villagers working in the fields. He hurries to the gates, eager to be let in if there is some sort of looming disaster. Instead he is denied entry, accused of spying and beaten until the bailiff shows up demanding to know what is going on. There are two Sleth, feared soul-eaters with unnatural powers, on the loose and a bounty for killing them. These hunted children are Koramites, Talen’s people who are already despised by the Mokaddians who consider themselves better, and the Mokaddians are suspicious of any of these people now. Talen is sent to tell his father to gather the people in his area and search for the Sleth, but when Talen delivers his message his father seems less concerned about the soul-eater threat than the terrified Talen, insisting Talen needs to be more worried about being mistaken for Sleth by an enthusiastic hunter.
Although Talen obsesses over capturing the Sleth before they find him, there is an even greater danger – a creature that is stalking the land at the behest of an ancient evil.
Servant of a Dark God started out rather slowly for me, but by the time it ended I was enjoying it. It probably took about 150 (out of 448) pages for me to really start to want to know what happened next in the book and I never really grew attached to any of the main point of view characters, although there was one who was at least interesting to read about. There were three characters who carried the majority of the third person perspectives – Talen, a teenage boy; Sugar, a teenage girl; and Hunger, a creature under the control of the primary villain. Early in the story, Talen got on my nerves as he was stubborn, quick to judge, and thought too much of his intelligence:
Talen, of course, inherited all the wit in the family, but nobody seemed to value that. He was never referred to as “the bright one” or “that great blaze of brains.” Instead, he got names like Twig and Hogan’s Runt. [pp. 15]
Is this over-inflated view of oneself perfectly believable for a teenage boy? Yes. Does it make him likable, especially as he seems to be the most ignorant person in the book? Not really, but at least he does undergo development throughout the course of the novel as he learns more about himself and his heritage and he ends up much less irritating later.
Despite the cringe-worthy name, Sugar was more engaging as a character as she had empathy and was more understanding about other people’s behavior even when they were not nice to her. Yet even though I far preferred her to Talen, she never really completely clicked for me as a character, either. Hunger was easily the most intriguing, but then I always appreciate getting the point of view of the “evil” side. However, Hunger wasn’t really evil; he was created by a being who used him for her evil deeds but he was more of a puppet, and as the story progressed, he also changed.
Once it picked up, the actual plot and fantasy storyline were far better than the characters, although I did tend to prefer the secondary characters to the main ones. I’d rather not give too much away, but I did really like the unveiling of the various secrets. The social structure and view of magic seemed to illustrate oppression through hoarding knowledge and there was the question of how much should one sacrifice for the greater good. After reading this book, I completely understood why David Farland, the author of the Runelords series, was so excited about it as I saw many similarities to his series (in themes explored, not in actual story, world-building or characters).
Although this is the start to a trilogy, the main storyline in this book did have a satisfying conclusion. It left room for more story, but it also could have ended right where it did and wouldn’t have made me feel like there needed to be more.
One minor complaint I had that is that there were a lot of typos, far many more than in the typical book I read. This is no way affects my rating or opinion of the book, but there were enough misspellings and use of the wrong word that it did bother me. The version I read was not an ARC but the final hardcover edition (I don’t mention these things if it is not the actual book since I understand it has not been completed yet but just wanted to clarify).
Servant of a Dark God took a while to pull me in and never made me fully care about the cast of characters, but the actual plot and fantasy setting did hold my interest once the story got going. Since it is a debut novel that had some potential, I would probably read the next book (although I would definitely wait for the paperback were I to purchase it).
My Rating: 6.5/10
Where I got my reading copy: A publicist had a copy sent to me.