Title: The Tower of Sorcery
Author: James Galloway (Fel)
Series: Firestaff #1
Tarrin Kael is a farmboy from a small village with dreams of becoming one of the famed Knights of Karas. Unlike most of those who have such aspirations, he’s got enough training to hope he has a decent shot: from his father who used to be a Ranger, and from his mother who comes from a culture where everyone learns their hand-to-hand combat styles. But when a Sorceress and the Knight guarding her stop by his village, it is the Sorceress who claims him for her Tower. But trouble follows hard on their heels. Disaster after disaster plagues his journey—including being bitten by a Were-Cat, and losing his humanity—and even the Tower of Sorcery isn’t what he hopes. Tarrin is determined to figure out what’s going on. Because if he doesn’t, something’s going to succeed at killing him . . .
These books have been favorites for years, though it’s been a while since I last read them. They aren’t available through traditional ebook outlets, but the author has posted everything online for free, and one of his fans has compiled an ebook version for those with ereaders (I think I prefer the docs at this point, as it is easier for me to stop when I have to open another file to get to the next chapter. Plus the ebook seems to have a few formatting gotchas where scene breaks don’t always populate correctly).
The prose can be somewhat clunky, and has a tendency to repeat smaller facts every now and again. And some of the character reactions are spelled out rather than shown, which can read awkwardly. It could use a pass with an editor to tighten things up some and fix a few grammar issues (I might find/replace “alot” myself on my copy, as it bugs me).
That said, the story is good enough that I tend to forget those flaws very quickly.
This is epic fantasy, with an enormous cast of characters, a number of intersecting subplots, a big world with historical and geographical context, a detailed magic system with four main types of magic and various checks and balances between them, and a number of human and nonhuman races. Rereading this is fun precisely because I can see where the threads of various plots started, and know how they will eventually draw together. But since the story mostly follows Tarrin, it doesn’t feel overwhelming even on a first read. The world gets built up layer by layer, and executes well within those confines. Even apparent contradictions are plot points.
Tarrin is an interesting protagonist. He’s only “typical” for a few chapters, and even there, the label is debatable. He’s had enough training to make his dream of being a Knight a realistic one, but no amount of training could prepare him for the physical, mental, and emotional changes that accompany becoming Were-Cat. It doesn’t help that no one really knows much about the Were in general and Were-Cats in particular, and the person best suited to help him is someone he is convinced is going to kill him. And compounding the natural changes that go along with being a Were-Cat is the political game that has thoroughly snared him. Cats don’t like being trapped, or used, and being constantly afraid for his life and unsure who to trust is eroding his sanity.
Oh, and the Cat goes berserk when he gets mad enough.
Tarrin’s friends don’t have as much opportunity here to move beyond initial impressions, but they’re still fun. His deep and almost immediate friendship with both Kerri and Allia is called out as unusual (and there’s the suggestion of divine meddling), but his friendship with others grows more naturally. I like how many different warrior cultures are represented, and how although they have a lot of similarities, there’s also a good amount of differences, which range from preferred weapon type to the character qualities that discipline emphasizes. And although two of those are held up as the gold standard, there’s a lot of respect for any group that has skillful practitioners.
The author has a good eye for fight scenes and what makes them work. We have plenty of scenes of training bouts, individual conflicts, and group conflicts; with and without weapons; with and without magic. They don’t feel repetitive because they tend towards surprises. And it’s not just skillful combat—Tarrin angry has a tendency to rip off faces or explode heads. There’s also a good sense of how nonhumans would fight differently due to their physical differences, like using their tails, claws, or massive strength.
Overall, this may be a little rough around the edges, but it is a very, very good series. Don’t let the length deter you, because it manages to keep pretty good energy throughout, and the eventual payoff for the interlaced plots is spectacular. I rate this book Recommended.
If you’re interested in reading these, the link is here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm