Welcome to day two of The Ventifact Colossus blog tour. Below you will find my book review for this fantasy novel by author Dorian Hart (Book One in The Heroes of Spira quartet). I will not be revealing any spoilers in my review.
Many thanks go to The Write Reads for putting together this blog tour and for letting me join in alongside so many great bloggers. You can find out where to get a copy of the book and information on the author at the bottom of this post. For more thoughts and reviews for The Ventifact Colossus, click here.
Content Warning: violence, blood references and imagery, crude humor
A tale of epic fantasy begins…
Banished to an otherworldly prison for centuries, the monstrous Emperor Naradawk is about to break free and wreak havoc upon the world of Spira. The archmage Abernathy can no longer keep the monster at bay, and has summoned a collection of would-be heroes to help set things right.
Surely he made a mistake. These can’t be the right people.
Dranko is priest-turned-pickpocket, expelled from his church for his antics. Kibilhathur is a painfully shy craftsman who speaks to stones. Aravia is a wizard’s apprentice whose intellect is eclipsed only by her arrogance. Ernest is a terrified baker’s son. Morningstar is a priestess forbidden from daylight. Tor is a young nobleman with attention issues. Ysabel is an elderly farm woman. Grey Wolf is a hard-bitten mercenary.
None of them are qualified to save the world, but they’ll have to do. Even Abernathy himself seems uncertain as to why he chose them.
What starts with a simple scouting mission soon spirals into something more far-reaching and sinister. The heroes will contest with dream warriors, evil cultists, sentient gemstones, and a devious yet infuriatingly polite gentleman with a perfect mustache, on their way to a desperate encounter with the unstoppable: The Ventifact Colossus.
The Ventifact Colossus promises that typical (albeit well-loved) “save the world” plot reinforced with a rag-tag team of characters trying to find not only their place within the group, but as individuals. And author Dorian Hart delivers on and elevates that promise with a unique world and even more unique characters with stories that will have any reader flying through the pages.
The main tale begins from the perspective of Dranko, which doubles as a smooth introduction to this main character and an introduction to the world we have stepped into. Right away it is established that there is a polytheistic structure at play, some magic in the world, and different species of beings. We are then thrown into the adventure with the arrival of a note, summoning Dranko to “the tower of the Archmage Abernathy.” From there, we learn a bit more about the magic of the world —both divine and arcane magic are at play here— and we are introduced to the rest of the main cast.
Ranging in ages from sixteen to sixty-four, and skill levels ranging even more wildly, the eight main characters embark on Abernathy’s errands which hold significance to the saving of the world. They journey to cities, temples, caves, a vast desert; all of which can be tracked by the reader using the map included at the beginning of the book. The narration switches between characters, so we get to experience the thoughts of the two teenage boys—one ready for glory and one not so sure of his place—a soon-to-be-twenty year old wizard, whose hunger for knowledge and love for a puzzle keep her focused, even though at times she ruminates on her inability to feel much emotion, even in the face of tragedy. Ysabel is the oldest of the group and the wisest, though her heartache is what gives her purpose on this journey. Kibi is quiet and mysterious, but may hold more power than all of his companions, while Grey Wolf is the rough older man, who is a bit brutish and stern with his charges. Ell’s internal struggle with her life’s path takes quite a toll on her, and Dranko hides his insecurities behind a loud mouth and boisterous attitude. Altogether they can make quite a mess, but as with any adventure story with a team such as this, finding their places as individuals and as one unit are part of the journey. Dorian Hart goes above and beyond to shape each character’s personality and backstory; it’s obvious there is so much more of them we have yet to learn, but what we do learn shapes the story and setting in a magnificent way.
“I don’t know that I’m ready to be a hero,” said Ernie, and that was, if anything, a terrific understatement. Mrs. Horn smiled encouragingly. “I don’t think anyone’s ready for that.”
While The Ventifact Colossus relies heavily on the characters, the characters are not the only strength. Our team of eight is quite well-versed in their world’s history and geography, and the author makes conversations about those topics flow seamlessly. In becoming acquainted with this world—Spira— and its rules as the reader, it becomes more and more apparent that it is wildly complex. Complex, but not in a distracting, confusing way. In an interesting, give-me-more kind of way. And much like story-lovers have become familiar with Middle Earth or The Stillness, Spira offers the same potential for studying.
The book has an episodic structure to it, which involves the main characters getting assigned a quest by Abernathy, going out to find information or fight a battle (or both), and coming back to their safe haven, The Greenhouse, to rest, discuss, and plan their next steps. This familiar motion of the narrative makes sense for a smaller fantasy world like Spira (traveling to different places doesn’t take weeks or months), and it works well in the first book of a series, as the reader is still learning about the world itself and the people in it. This does not mean that the story lacks in action or excitement or heart-to-heart moments; quite the opposite. There is time for all of those moments to shine, whether our friends have to take immediate action along the road they are journeying, or form a new level of respect for a fellow team member after a breakfast conversation.
With all of the shining moments, there are tragic ones as well. Dorian Hart is certainly not afraid to yank on his reader’s heartstrings, and give them that “shut-the-book-for-a-minute” reaction to some of the choices he makes. However, in making the stakes higher, each quest has more weight and each conflict brings more intense foreshadowing—can the group continue to grow stronger, or will the cracks in their armor prove too numerous? How will the world of Spira carry on, if it will at all? Questions like these are formed by the end of book one, and with various teasers in the epilogue, the expectations for book two are high.
“Yes, yes, you told us already,” interrupted Dranko. “For reasons you don’t understand. But where did that spell come from? Who told you to cast it? What are you not telling us?”
[Abernathy’s] bearded face crinkled into an apologetic smile. “I don’t…I can’t tell you that, Dranko. You’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that each and every one of you has a vital role to play in the days to come.”
About the Author
Dorian Hart graduated from Wesleyan University with a degree in creative writing. This led circuitously to a 20-year career as a video game designer, where he contributed to many award-winning titles including Thief, System Shock, System Shock 2 and BioShock. He is also the author of the interactive novella Choice of the Star Captain.
Dorian now lives in the Boston area with his fantastic wife and two clever daughters. When not serving as house chef and chauffeur, he works on the kinds of novels he’s been itching to write since he was ten years old.