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Book Reviews by Sarah Benson

>Storms of Vengeance: Book I of The Lorradda Stone (2006)
John Beachem

Storms of Vengeance: Book 1 of The Lorradda Stone is a lot of halves. It is half refreshingly original and half clichéd. It is half dramatic and exciting and half slow as molasses. I half-loved it and half- hated it.

First off, props to newcomer John Beachem for taking some of the more traditional elements of fantasy and making them his own. Forget your Lord of the Rings elves; there are no Legolases here. Instead, we get small, nasty creatures regarded by most people as nothing but animals who can’t speak. They sure can kill, though, which we first get to see in a very well-done scene in the woods involving fire and shadows. I was scared just reading it.

Magic, also, is mistrusted to the point of being banned in the world John Beachem creates-the world of Faranin. In this kingdom, those who are "marked," that is, those who can perform magic, are kept locked up in special three level dungeons. Ever since the "Magic Wars" of long ago, it has been looked upon as a vile ability and no one practices it anymore.

Or do they? After a surprise attack on the city of Terne and a mysterious murder, it becomes obvious that magic is making a comeback (albeit not in the right hands). And this is my main problem with the book—the pacing. The idea of magic coming back and doing great harm after being all but stifled out for a long period of time is predictable. The reader knows what is going on a good hundred pages before any of the characters do. While I appreciate the detail and care taken in creating this world, the book probably could have been about 50 pages shorter and still had the same effect.

Don’t be fooled by the 386 pages, either; while most books average about 34 lines a page, Storms averages about 50 lines a page—the font is smaller, the pages longer. It might be part psychological that I felt it was taking me a long time to get to the good stuff. On the other hand, for people who like to know every little thing and every little character, you will get your wish. So many characters appear in this book that I regretted not keeping a list when I started. Of course, as with so many other fantasy stories, the names are not easy, either. I only hope I don’t have to remember a whole new slew of characters in the next book. As long as he keeps working with what he has, I might be able to keep them straight.

Credit where credit is due
Now I must give credit where credit is due. This is obviously the first book in a series, so I'm not really surprised that a lot of time was given to the set-up of what looks to be a very exciting second book. Furthermore, despite a lot of "slow" time in which characters stand around and wonder what happened, Beachem’s dialogue is not only well-done but also pretty damn funny. It adds a lot to what might otherwise be a bland scene. It also makes me like the characters. They seem like real people, even those in higher-up positions, and it helps to paint a picture of the somewhat rugged world the characters live in.

Speaking of characters, it is hard to say who the main ones are. Based on the back of the book, I would have thought Ratel and Calton, the two young guardsmen who find themselves in the center of a magical mystery, to be the central characters. However, there are so many other characters who are in the book just as much as, if not more than, these two that I can only assume this is going to turn out like The Lord of the Rings, where everyone sticks together until a hero is needed. I don’t really mind either way since I am enjoying all the characters so far, but it is wise when reading this book to not expect every chapter to be about Ratel or Calton. Few of them are. It is fun to pick out your favorite, though. I’ve really been digging the interesting female characters, and I wonder how many books till we get to a huge "cat fight."

Nevertheless, in general, Storms of Vengeance plays out like a typical fantasy, in that you've got your huge cast of characters with weird names embarking on a world-saving adventure. This first book I thought tried too hard to be "epic". It wasn't until I was about 2/3rds of the way in that I actually began to buy into it. With that said, I definitely like where the story is going, and I imagine it's going to become the epic fantasy I want it to be in the next book.

Bottom Line
For anyone who really loves fantasy, this will probably be a comfortable, enjoyable book. It is open-ended, of course, but feels like it is leading up to something awesome. It is an interesting story, and some of the final scenes are amazing. Even though I felt like I was being dragged through the first half, the second half had me forgetting all about the slow start. This is probably not the best book to give your friend when trying to convince him or her to get into fantasy. The slow pace at the beginning and the numerous characters will hinder the enjoyment of this genre for a newbie. However, for readers like me who like to read a little bit of everything, it is a promising start for what looks to be an epic series. And as an added bonus for those of you who like bad weather, the "storms" in this story are literal. As you start the journey with Beachem and his characters, your heart thumps, and you can almost hear the thunder in the distance.

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