Posted on May 13th 2019 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Confession: I was supposed to post this AGES ago along with a video to my YouTube channel. I wanted to wait until the video was edited, but unfortunately, I believe that all of the footage for the video is probably long gone (although I am looking for it). Still, I feel that I owe the author posting this. So, here is my review of Raven Thrall. I have not edited it, and the below still reflects my feelings at the time of reading the book.
Today we are going to be talking about Raven Thrall, which is the first in a new series by J. Elizabeth Vincent.
First things first, I just want to let you all know that I did receive an advanced review copy of this book many months ago for the purpose of doing a review… and then I went on hiatus. So it is with many, many apologies to the author that I am belatedly getting around to posting this video.
As I said, I did receive an advanced review copy of this book for the purpose of doing a review. I did not buy it with my own money. However, that does not influence my review positively or negatively and I am receiving no other compensation.
About the Author
I actually came across J. Elizabeth Vincent on a discussion board on Goodreads. She does appear to be quite active on Goodreads, so if you want to interact with her that may be a good place to start. She also has an active blog with a newsletter, which I will link below.
Like me, J. Elizabeth got serious about writing around the age of 14. In 2016 she won second place for fiction on the Blue Ridge Writers Golden Nib contest. The shortstory was titled “Transgression” and published in Skyline in 2017 if you’re interested in reading it.
Raven Thrall is J. Elizabeth’s debut novel.
Raven Thrall is available in both ebook and print. It is available through Kindle Unlimited, which I believe makes it a KDP Select, so I do not think you’ll be finding it from other purveyors of ebooks at this time.
The print edition weighs in at 452 pages. The only language available at this time is English. I am not away of any plans for translation.
But, I am aware of plans for something else! According to the author’s website, an audiobook edition of Raven Thrall is underway. I just want to say congrats to J. Elizabeth. My audiobook just came out last week, and it is just the most exciting thing in the world to hear a narrator bring your characters to life. So super excited about that.
Raven Thrall is the first is a series, which is Legends of the Ceo San. The second book, Revelation of the Dragon, is currently in progress. A prequel novella titled Healer’s Sacrifice is expected to drop sometime this summer.
Spoiler, I’m looking forward to reading both of these.
The cover on this one is just kind of “meh” for me. I don’t think it would have drawn me in during one of my Kindle scroll fests. It is well done and professional looking, but I personally do not find the design very eye-catching.
The inside of the ebook is well formatted. Chapter and scene breaks are well delineated and there’s a good, working table of contents. There are no egregious formatting issues to distract the reader. There’s also no real embellishment to the ebook, either. I can’t speak for the print version, unfortunately.
What does take design up a notch is the great map at the beginning. I’m a sucker for a great map.
All in all, I give the book four teaspoons for design.
Like most of my reviews, I had categories in which I waffeled on what score to give. For Raven Thrall premise was one of those areas. In the end I am going with three teaspoons and here’s why.
There’s really nothing groundbreaking in the premise for Raven Thrall. It’s fairly standard things we’ve seen in many fantasies before it and will see in many fantasies after it.
And I feel the need to disclaimer this, because it got me into some hot water with another author’s fans, this is not in and of itself a bad thing. It just won’t earn you more than three teaspoons in this category. It’s still a strong premise for a strong story. I just isn’t earthshattering.
Raven Thrall has:
- A young woman who is not quite who she thinks she is
- Shapeshifting people
- An oppressive evil king
- A “chosen people” situation
These are all elements for a great story, but they are also elements that we have seen together many, many times before.
J. Elizabeth gives us a reasonably sized cast to wrap our heads around in Raven Thrall. None of the characters feel throwaway. I feel like if I followed one of them around outside of the main body of the story I would find that they all live their own rich lives independent of the main character’s struggle.
Speaking of our main character. The heroine of the tale is a young named Mariah who escaped the clutches of an evil king as a child. When we first meet Mariah after the prologue, she seems at peace with her life of exile despite the bitter resentment she carries towards her mother. She is content with her inability to change shape the way other Ceo San do. In fact, she refuses to believe that she is a Ceo San. Just a freak.
So right off the bat, Mariah sort of lives some dualities. Being more, but not sure if she wants to be more. Loving her parents, but at the same time hating her mother. Loving her wings, but hating them. You get the idea.
Mariah is all about self-preservation, and that includes preserving her status quo. She struggles with her mentor’s lessons designed to break her out of that status quo and claim the full abilities of a Ceo San. So when she is presented with the opportunity to help Xae rescue his family, Mariah is more than a little reluctant.
It really is a great character arc. By the end of the story, Mariah’s sense of self and her beliefs about the past have radically shifted, but it all seems like a natural progression of who she is.
The world of Raven Thrall is well defined and consistent.
As I said earlier, the map at the beginning of the ebook is great. The author also seems to have a good idea in her head of distance and proportion for her world. Everything seems consistent as the character’s travel, which is important for a questing/journey sort of plotline.
Finally, the rules of the magic system – which so far really just seems to cover Ceo Sans’ shapechanging abilities – are well thought out. As readers, we’re given a pretty good understanding of what they can and cannot do fairly earlier, and the author sticks to that throughout.
Consistency is big for me. Your world can be totally bonkers, but so long as it is consistently bonkers, I can get into it. Raven Thrall’s world is far from bonkers, but it is beautifully consistent. I hope to see that continue in the next volume.
Like the premise, the plot really isn’t anything earthshattering. Mariah meets Xae and they go on a quest together to rescue his family. Along the way, Mariah discovers just what she is really made of. Again, it’s pretty standard fantasy fare.
Having said that, the execution is well done, and we do get a few interesting twists along the way. I thought the pacing was good.
I really enjoyed J. Elizabeth’s writing style. I enjoyed the pacing, word choice, and the overall feel of the prose.
My final score for Raven Thrall is a four teaspoons. I really did enjoy this book and look forward to reading the volumes that follow. I’m excited to see what direction J. Elizabeth takes the story. The scope of Raven Thrall was fairly narrow with the goal of rescuing Xae’s family, but now Mariah’s whole destiny has been opened up. I expect we’ll see things developer on a grander scale, and I can’t wait to see how J. Elizabeth handles it.
That’s it for Raven Thrall. Next Hot Tea & Tall Tales will be two weeks from today. We will be discussing Riding a Black Horse by Dan Arman. Hope to see you then.
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Posted on May 10th 2019 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
Audiobook, Website Updates, Writing
Happy Friday, everyone! A couple of quick updates.
First, I haven’t got my words in today for either the new WIP or CtD simply because there were some things to take care of this morning. I’m hoping to get 500 in on the new WIP before bed. Tomorrow is Saturday so I will have plenty of time to hit the CtD rewrites hard.
Second, I’ve started working on the website revamp that I’ve been procrastinating on for ~2 years. It’s coming along nicely. Leveraging some new tech, so that’s exciting. If anyone has any suggestions for the site, please submit them through the website Contact form.
Finally, I currently have a giveaway running for a free Audible copy of Saving the Dragon. You can find all the entry details for that on my Facebook page. Look for the pinned post. Please read the entry details. A lot of people are liking the post but not commenting, which is pretty much the opposite of what the entry requirements as for. That closes May 31st. I may actually do the drawing as a Facebook Live thing. We’ll see, haha.
And I think that’s pretty much it.
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Posted on May 9th 2019 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
There are so many things going on right now that I don’t even know where to begin.
First, I am currently in the process of buying a house, so things are a little bit chaotic right now. I’m hoping to have that all squared away in the next couple of weeks. From there I will be able to get my office set-up and devote some major time to writing through the summer.
Second, I have an update on Courting the Dragon. Over the course of attempting to revise it – and fix the gaping plot hole that was causing it to bleed out all over my hard drive – I came to realize that some things with the story were fundamentally broken. Large chunks of the first draft are just going to see the trash bin and whole new swaths of story are in the process of being written. And it wasn’t just one thing. There were multiple problems. I really needed to get to know one of the villains better and think through his motivations, for one thing. So that project is underway at a pace of about 1000 words a day. The general synopsis I have posted on the website is still correct.
Thirdly, I have sent the first third of The Foundling to a beta reader for feedback. That story is also stalled out with a problem annoyingly similar to CtD’s plot hole. The good news is, I don’t think that story is fundamentally broken, I just suck at outlining.
Finally, I have started (or I suppose restarted) a new WIP (work in progress) to give myself something with no castle storming. It’s coming along at a pace of about 500 words a day, although I hope to pick that pace up a bit next month. That will largely depend on how stubborn CtD is in mending its ways. I tried a different pre-writing/outlining process for this one that I will talk about more in a later blog. I feel pretty good about this one. My hope is to have it ready sometime in November. But, as we have all learned, my hopes don’t mean a whole lot when life decides to come knocking.
Oh, and finally-finally, I am going to be trying to keep the blog updated more often, even if it’s just a quick status update on the office, CtD, etc.
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Posted on June 29th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
News, Self-Publishing Woes, Writing
We are close to the end! So close, in fact, that I’ve already drafted the blog post to announce the release dates. I have only a very thin stack of papers left in my print-out of the Courting the Dragon’s second draft (because remember, I threw out like half the book several months ago). Once that is finished there’s a new epilogue I want to write and then it’ll be time for final polish.
Getting through this revision has been a real trip. I’ve been trying to reflect on why it was so much harder to get through this one than the last one. I think a few factors are at play:
- I wasn’t really trying to write a book for publication when I wrote Saving the Dragon. I was just having some fun with NaNoWriMo. There was no pressure to get the thing done.
- Courting the Dragon is a lot longer than Saving. You could make an argument that Saving is almost more of a novella than a novel and I would have a really hard time refuting your point. You cannot make the same claim about CtD. It is novel length. Not like George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan epic-tome-of-doom novel length, but still long enough to get past some publishing houses’ minimum submission requirements.
- I hated my villain and a lot of other parts of the first draft. That made it really hard to want to work on the book and prompted the great word count massacre earlier this year.
- I really want this one to be good. I want to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. I want a stronger story, better writing, more character development, etc, etc. I am also really concerned with consistency for the magic system and generally continuity. I painted myself into some weird corners with random little things in Saving. Book 3 is going to be really interesting depending on how I tie up so worldbuilding in CtD.
And of course there was all of the of big life stuff all right in the middle of writing and revising this book, but we don’t need to rehash those details again.
I will say that after the long, arduous journey of getting Courting the Dragon finished, I think I will be taking a short break from Penny and her dragon. I have several projects that are begging to be finished. The Foundling is probably the closest to completion, and I really feel like that should be my next focus. After that it is up in the air whether Penelope’s Dragon Book 3 will be next in line. Odds are probably good that it will be, but I think I will need to see how I feel after Foundling.
All that is left of draft 2 to edit/revise as of this posting
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Posted on June 25th 2018 ⋄ By Sara Cleveland ⋄ Category:
A monsterous, messing stack of *most* of the pages from draft 2 that have been revised to date.
Note: I wrote this back in February but never posted it. I have left it unaltered, so in my time in the following it is still February. Better late than never.
I’ve been thinking about a complaint against one of my review videos that just came out. It wasn’t on one of my own posts or the video itself, so you probably won’t be able to find it. In any case, in the commenter’s mind, my review missed the mark because I hadn’t given enough attention to the originality of the book in question. The thing is, I’ve seen most of the elements used in that story somewhere before. Every book is going to recycle something. Usually many somethings. What makes a book shine, what makes it good, is when it reuses the expected in an unexpected way.
Every book of any quality is a unique compilation of elements. But those elements, those same building blocks, have probably been used and reused a million times. If you don’t believe me, go watch or read my (very positive) review of That Time I Broke Time by Sarah Emily Lelonek where I lay out examples of other books with the same core premise. That premise is that the heroine discovers she isn’t who she thinks and has special powers. Usually, all hell breaks loose around the time of such discoveries.
So, let’s look at the book that’s actually in dispute, which is Franc Ingram’s Heirs of Eternity.
I’ve seen the whole re-incarnated until you get it right thing in Heirs of Eternity and Katherine Kerr’s Devverry books. At first blush, these books are nothing alike, but the core premise that these characters will keep coming back and play out the same drama as different people and only one of them knows it/really understands why is the same. The execution is completely and totally different, but they use the same building block.
Then there’s the main plot thread. It has a lot in common with classics like Lord of the Rings. That’s why I said in my review that it was a pretty standard high-adventure plot. I can sum it up in one sentence: the main character must go to a particular place to do this particular thing to stop this particular evil (usually at the risk of the world ending) and he/she collects some friends along the way.
If I dig deep enough in my stack, I can probably also find a few books where the gods or god-like creatures made an oopsie and set some terrible evil loose on the world in a manner not dissimilar from the Twelve when they created the Ultras.
This is not a bad thing. I repeat this is not a bad thing.
As I said with That Time I Broke Time, tropes and story arcs are reused because they’re good. They’re a formula that our brains recognize and appreciate.
My own books are full of tropes. I like to joke that when writing Saving the Dragon I wanted to see how many tropes I could squeeze into one book. Just touching on the obvious ones, I have the rebellious princess/noblewoman trope (see Disney’s Brave for another popular example) and the shapeshifting character trope. I could go for days with examples of dragon-shifters alone. A quick glance at a list of paranormal and/or romance novels and you’ll probably find a few pretty quick. Actually, someone just fairly recently published one with the exact same title as mine. Talk about unoriginal.
I can’t think of a book or movie off-hand that follows a similar arc to my first one, but I am sure one exists (if you know it, please tell me in the comments. I’m dying to read/watch it). My second book plays with the arranged marriage trope. My third planned book of the same series will follow a questing plot #NotASpoiler. I’ll bet when I say “questing plot” all sorts of stories come to your mind. And I’d like to think that I put my own personal spin on the tropes and character archetypes I’m using. I manage to make myself laugh, at any rate. Then again, what do I know? Maybe my stories are a colossal snoozefest and you all are too nice to tell me so.
In any case, this is why I didn’t choose to focus on Heirs of Eternity’s originality. I thought there was something much more important to focus on, and that is what I think Franc does best: writing beautifully rendered characters. So, to the commenter who thought I missed the mark, I say to you: I stand by my stance that the strength of Heirs of Eternity does not lie in the plot, the wide cast, or the worldbuilding, but rather in the exceptionalcharacter creation that Franc displayed in writing Oleana. WhoOleana is drove her on that go-to-this-place-to-do-this-thing-to-stop-this-evil-style journey. Her strength didn’t let her give up even when her weakness begged her to. Her inner turmoil was far more interesting and soul-rending than what was going on outside of her. She gave everything, all that she was, to see her mission through to the end. Thatwas the story. And I hope to see so much more of such talented character building from Franc in the next one.
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