When The Ranger of Marzanna arrived in the mail I was thrilled. Orbit had sent me an ARC, one of the first I’ve ever received unasked for, and it was gorgeous! Just opening up the package and seeing that beautiful cover illustrated by Magali Villeneuve and designed by Lisa Marie Pompilio took my breath away. Then I flipped it over to read the blurb on the back…
“When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.
Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.
When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.
But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.”
- Imperial intrigue
- Sibling rivalry
- Tundra setting in winter
It’s safe to say after seeing the cover and reading the synopsis I was super stoked about this eastern European inspired fantasy book! And you can imagine my disappointment when it didn’t live up to the images or expectations I had for it.
I made it a little over 20 percent of the way through the book before I decided to set it down for good. There were a couple of things I liked apart from the list above that I’d hoped to find, and I’ll start there before explaining why I called it quits.
The setting was definitely an aspect of the book I was enjoying. We don’t see a lot of eastern European inspired fantasy and I’m particularly attracted to it. In particular the cool climate setting of the novel which made me feel cold as I read. I really take to books where the setting is well depicted and I imagined where this one was going.
Skovron went with an elemental magic system in The Ranger of Marzanna and I was quite excited about it. What little I’d read seemed promising with plenty of details to explore.
But…in the end I just couldn’t go on any more. Here’s why…
What I Didn’t Like
First was the writing. I just wasn’t liking it. Part of it was Skovron’s prose in general. It felt formal and stilted. Part of it was the specific way info dumps were subtly (or not so subtly) woven into character speech. And not just once. I kinda hate that. Like when a character is talking about the enemy with someone from their own country and speaks like this, “Including our hated enemy, the barbarous Vaine Empire to the west.” I highlighted all the parts in that one sentence that set me off. I mean if you’re talking to someone you know real well or who is on your side you don’t have to add that the hated empire is “our hated enemy.” You both already know that. You don’t have to call them “barbarous” because if they are, you already know that too. And YOU DON’T HAVE TO GIVE IT’S GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION BECAUSE YOU BOTH ALREADY KNOW THAT. It’s just not believable dialogue. Find a way to tell me these things without info dumping in the dialogue.
The characters. I just didn’t like them. The two siblings came across as whiny and unlikable. More on Sebastian below. Sonya…I don’t know, she just made some bad decisions early on and I never developed an attachment to her character. And one moment she’s a complete badass and the next not so much. The badass part as depicted early on was cool, but it was hard to believe even in a fantasy book. And then she wasn’t consistent. In truth the fact she was later vulnerable and not a perfect killing machine almost made me start liking her because there was potential for growth there. But alas it wasn’t to be because her brother just did me in.
Sebastian (along with his mother) showed absolutely no believable reaction to an event that should have shattered their lives. (minor very early spoiler) Sebastian’s father is killed at the hands of imperial soldiers. Does he care? nope, not really. What does he do? He joins the guy who ordered his father killed because sure, that’s what a grieving teenage son does. And his mother (I’m forgetting her name because well she didn’t stand out to me) pretends like it’s no biggie to everyone in high society, including the man that had her husband killed. Seriously? I get that she thinks she has to pretend she’s on the side of the empire BUT EVERY NORMAL PERSON WOULD EXPECT YOU TO BE UPSET, NOT JUST GO ABOUT YOUR LIFE LIKE IT WAS A MINOR INCONVENIENCE. Just. No.
Then there was the whole military thing. I’m a fan of military sci-fi/fantasy which also means I have certain expectations about getting it right, even if I admit it’s fantasy and you can make new rules. In this case it was instances of albeit new officers calling enlisted sergeants “sir” and not getting corrected, or of the same officer (Sebastian) deferring to non-officers not because he’s nice but because I guess he thinks that’s how it’s done and nobody corrects it. Then…then there was this scene where Sebastian using his magic creates a bridge out of ice. The commanding general observes it, then berates Sebastian for not creating something “of military application.” Do you see the look on my face? He’d just built a fucking bridge. In the history of warfare bridges have been and still are of supreme fucking military value and application. How the hell do you advance or retreat across rivers or gorges? What if you could create a bridge where one doesn’t exist, cross it, then destroy it by magic so your enemy can’t also use it? HOW IS THAT NOT OF MILITARY APPLICATION? Sebastian then basically creates a lava flow across a plain and realizes how he’s about to be used to be a baddie on behalf of the empire (who just killed his dad a couple days ago remember) and he’s like “meh.”
I was done.
And I’ll tell you I feel a little guilty because I know I’m bashing this book more than I normally do in a review. And I know Orbit has high hopes for this one or they wouldn’t have published it and sent it out to a bunch of us. But I just can’t recommend it. If anyone else has read it (or does read it) and you think I misjudged it or judged it too soon let me know. I’m open to hearing (or reading) your thoughts because I always want to love the books I read. So if I’m not giving it a fair shake let me know.
** I was sent an ARC of this book by the publisher.
Author: Jon Skovron
Series: The Goddess War #1
Publication Date: April 21, 2020
Format: ARC Paperback