The Seer by Jules Cory
Matador, pb, £8.92
Reviewed by John C. Adams
Matador is the self-publishing service of independent UK publisher Troubadour. As I discovered from their website, Jules Cory is a former vet nurse who explains in her very brief author bio that a midlife crisis presented the catalyst to write her first novel, escaping into the realms of myth and folklore, wizards and dragons. With such a personal backstory in mind, I dove in.
‘The Seer’ is the second book in the ‘Dragonslayer’ trilogy, the first being ‘The Bard’. It is very comfortably placed within the mainstream fantasy subgenre of sword and sorcery, and it was evident that the author knew their market.
Tallen, a young woman living alone in the forest, returns home to her cottage to find an ageing druid, Drey, has arrived. He hands over her father’s sword, explains that their king Kyllian has declared war on Gallowgla, Hilman and Lindvane, and then surprises her with the declaration that she possesses the power to slay dragons. This strong opener sets the action going nicely.
Drey also informs Tallen that the king has called upon her to serve, requiring her to return to the court immediately. They set off the next day, and Tallen’s ruminating on the journey prepares the reader for the emotional challenge of meeting the crown prince, Kade, with whom there appears to have been some previous romantic connection. The twin physical and emotional aspects of the journey were well established, giving the reader plenty to anticipate in the story to come.
I hadn’t read the first book in the series, so part of the test for me as reviewer was the extent to which it was intelligible as a work in its own right. It’s astonishing how many sequels rely on knowledge of the prequel, rending them confusing to a reader jumping in mid-series. Happily, this was not the case here. The early chapters set aside space to summarise the key events from the first book, and I very soon knew just enough to immerse myself in Tallen’s challenges. She was a very likeable and empowered central character, easily drawing me into wanting to read the rest of the story.
One of the most interesting aspects of this four-hundred-page novel was that the story was told in the first person. It did drift into other points of view occasionally in ways that the heroine could not possibly have been able to supply as her own certain knowledge but which were not presented as her internal speculation. However, this did not happen often enough to mar my enjoyment.
It is always a difficult decision to adopt a first-person perspective in fantasy novels. They tend to have complex plots involving innumerable characters and therefore benefit most from having access to multiple third-person points of view as the story unfolds. Here, the first person gave the reader the opportunity to experience the action alongside Tallen in a way that was very intimate. The occasional use of dreams to widen up the perspective a little was unusual, but it worked, partly as we are told at the beginning that her archenemy Villermir inserts dreams and possibly thoughts into her mind. Accordingly, her mind became a part of the fantasy battleground in a way that felt very original and justified the decision to use the first person.
The greatest drawback for me in this novel was the tendency to tell the reader what was coming up and then go on to show them in the paragraph that followed. For myself, I didn’t enjoy this because it decoded what the reader was about to see in a way that managed their response to something they haven’t encountered yet and may wish to interpret in their own way.
The writing style was towards the literary end of mainstream fantasy but not uncomfortably so. The novel featured impeccable grammar, something I wish I could say about more self-published material that reaches my desk. There wasn’t too much dialogue, either. Regular readers of my reviews will know that dialogue-heavy books are something of a bugbear for me. The physical product was excellent in terms of paper, cover and print quality. Self-publishing is a crowded but occasionally uneven market, and again this isn’t something to be taken for granted.
Overall, the novel was a good read with strong characterisation, fitting in well to its segment of the market. Highly recommended.
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