Recently the Self-Published Fantasy Month Team posted a list of some self-published fantasy recs for those who have not read much self-published fantasy and don’t know where to start with finding a good book to read. Our hope was to offer up a few suggestions each while admitting the list would leave out a bunch of great books and authors. I hate leaving out great stories so I decided to re-post the reviews of all the self-published fantasy books I’ve really enjoyed over the last few years. Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be re-posting them here in the lead up to Self-Published Fantasy Month. My hope is you might find one that catches your interest for September!
Today’s installment is Carol A. Park’s Banebringer. I should note that Park is the spouse of fellow SPFM team member Calvin Park, but that doesn’t mean I’m boosting her book for that reason. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope you will too.
Once again I’m impressed by the quality of self-published fantasy that’s being produced these days. This shouldn’t be something I need to comment on anymore because self-published authors have been putting out great books for years, but I’m saying it anyway. And Banebringer by Carol A. Park is yet another example of the kind of exceptional stories being written by these outstanding authors.
Banebringer is a little bit magic, a little bit dark, a little bit romance, and all bits enjoyable.
“Banebringers. Source of the bloodbane who stalk the land. Cause of a thousand wrongs. Despised. Cast out. Hunted.
Vaughn never asked for the powers of a long-forgotten moon goddess. But rarely do the gods give humans a choice when using them in their machinations. Now Vaughn is a Banebringer, loathed by all who discover his true identity—even his father, a man obsessed with his own power and bent on destroying Vaughn’s miserable life.
Vaughn is desperate to end his father before the madman ends him. But to do so he’ll need the skills of Ivana, a vindictive assassin with her own scores to settle. The only question is whether Vaughn can keep himself from becoming another of her targets long enough to see his father eliminated.” – Goodreads blurb
Park offers us a world where the power of the gods has been bestowed upon those who are derisively called Banebringers. That is because when they are chosen a monster often follows with them, and if a Banebringer is ever killed, one bursts forth through the fabric of reality to take their place. Whether they are blessed or cursed with this power is a matter of debate, but most people fear and shun them, and there are some who actively hunt Banebringers down in order to “still” them for the world’s protection.
The story in Banebringer is set within the borders of one nation, and primarily within it’s capital and surrounding environs. While the wider world is noted and touched upon the emphasis is local. That doesn’t mean there isn’t much world building going on, it’s just a little more focused. What’s brought to the fore are the political powers and those not in power; the ruling governers (called Ri), the Conclave (priests of the new god and those who hunt down Banebringers), Banebringers, and the common people eking out an existence. There’s a power struggle going on with the Banebringers fighting for their very existence.
My favorite part of the world building was the magic system Park has created. It’s a system where magic comes through powers within one’s blood. Or more specifically through “aether” in one’s blood. This power comes from the old gods who are now anathema. This power also comes with a curse, that risk of bringing a monster into the world at their death. The magic is very specific with different Banebringers having different abilities. There are moonbloods, firebloods, weavebloods, bindbloods, etc. Some with the ability to turn invisible, control water, control fire, control air, heal, and so on. A Banebringer burns aether in their blood when casting magic. When they are cut a Banebringer’s blood turns to a silver aether which can also be stored and used by others. It’s a system that reminds me a lot of Sanderson’s Mistborn series or even McClellen’s Powdermage series but with more functionality for lack of a better term. It also comes with more consequences which is something I really loved. There’s always a risk to the power a Banebringer wields, and a risk to those who wish to bring an end to them.
The other area where the book really shines is it’s two main characters, Vaughn and Ivanna. The story is told through their alternating points of view. Vaughn is a Banebringer whose father Ri Gildas, a member of the conclave, is hunting him down. Vaughn struggles with his need to survive and his inability to kill his father before his father kills or stills him. Vaughn is also a bit of a womanizer. Ok maybe not a bit…he’s a horndog and recognizes it. So obviously he has a hard time with relationships.
Ivanna is a tavern keeper who takes in young women who are down on their luck. She has a past where she was wronged by a lord and his son that drives who she is today. She’s also a very skilled assassin who will cut you and not thing twice about it. Ivanna is complex and resourceful and was my favorite character in the story.
But it’s the combination of Vaughn and Ivanna that really makes the narrative fun. Their’s is the classic boy meets girl, girl wants nothing to do with boy and in fact would probably prefer to kill him, boy is scared to death of girl but wants to bed her because omg the sexual tension, and yeah he sees through some of that armor she’s put on. It’s a romance with the potential for murder especially because Vaughn doesn’t give up no matter how dangerous it is for him and Ivanna is serious about the whole I may kill you if you don’t watch it thing. If you like a little romance with an edge in your fantasy then you’ll like Vaughn and Ivanna. Both characters have satisfying story arcs that are somewhat but not totally predictable. You’ll find yourself alternating between which one you’re pulling for most, which one you’ll be screaming “oh come on get it together” at, and discover just maybe you want both to win. Or not…I still like Ivanna most.
Park’s writing is so very readable. This is particularly evident in that this is a somewhat dark book, but it never goes down the road of grimdark. I think that’s because Park has a way of bringing light to every page. In the darkest parts of the story there is always some ray of light shining down upon it. It makes the read compelling. It’s also very readable because Park’s writing just flows well whether it’s her descriptions, her dialogue, or just the pacing of the narrative and the character interactions. You can also tell it’s been well edited because I never got hung up on misspellings, odd phrasings, or jumbled up details. After suffering through some recent traditionally published books with these problems recently this was a salve to my reading soul and another example of why self-published doesn’t mean bad writing or editing.
I must also add that the ending wasn’t what I expected. This is just book one in the series so I knew more was to come, but it didn’t go where I thought it was going. That isn’t a bad thing and I expect it is setting up some some plot tensions for the future. I really only say this because often in fantasy we can see the way a book will end and it’s all tidy and wrapped up with a bow even if the story isn’t over.
As with any fantasy story it isn’t just swords and magic and adventure. The themes of the book give it depth. While fun and at times lighthearted, Banebringer also deals with themes of blessing and curses, redemption, and forgiveness. As noted above the Banebringers are reviled by most people and hunted down, thought to be cursed and to bring a curse upon the world. But they themselves tend to look at it differently, that they are blessed with certain powers that the world doesn’t fully understand. This tension is at the heart of much of the story and raises the question of what IS a blessing or curse and does it all in the eye of the beholder? Is the label something that is true or something we are taught.
Redemption is key to the story as well. Can a person or a group be redeemed in the eyes of the world? Or is who they are and what they have done something that can’t be forgiven or ignored? Are people blamed for the actions of others and can those actions be redeemed? Are people permanently scarred by their past mistakes or those events that happened to them outside of their control?
Linked very closely to redemption is forgiveness. Can one be forgiven for their past actions? And even if others can forgive, can a person forgive themselves? What does that forgiveness look like?
I thoroughly enjoyed Banebringer. I came for the story, stayed for the writing, was happily surprised with the romance, and was thrilled with the whole. There are two more books in this world, Sweatblade a stand-alone novel about Ivanna, and Cursebreaker the second novel in the Heretic Gods series which was released this past December. I’ll be picking up both.
Note: I am friends on social media with the author’s husband and have been a guest on his podcast. I also interact on Twitter on occasion with Park as well.
4 of 5 Stars
Author: Carol A. Park
Series: The Heretic Gods
Publisher: Shattered Soul Books (Indie/Self-Published)
Publication Date: May 1, 2018