The Splinter King by Mike Brooks
Orbit, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
The Splinter King picks up where The Black Coast left off with Darel Blackcreek heading to the capital to justify letting the Brown Eagle clan settle in Narida. The Splinter King’s family, the rival for the Naridian throne, have been slaughtered. All except the Splinter King, who must find a way back to the priests who have been protecting the family. Daimon and Saana believe the worst is behind them, but there is still conflict in Blackcreek with the natives not happy with the settlers. And now traders from the mountains have not come at their usual time, forcing Daimon to send a party searching for them. Is there a bigger threat closer to home than some dissatisfied farmers heading towards Blackcreek?
I approached the sequel to The Black Coast with some uncertainty. I enjoyed The Black Coast but found it a little too long with, dare I say it, too much showing of events. That wasn’t enough to put me off picking up The Splinter King, wondering how familiar characters were getting on. The start introduces new antagonists. There is a group claiming the God-King has been reborn, and Natal is a fraud. There are also some of the defeated Golden One’s Tjakorshi who don’t want to report their failure. Due to this, I was hopeful the narrative would be more on point with fewer asides that were nice to read but not bringing much to the story.
But that didn’t last, unfortunately. Writing advice is to show rather than tell, and I am a big believer in that. Don’t tell me there are dragons; let me feel the heat from their fire, smell their rancid odour, hear their scales rustling. However, there are times when I’m happy with a little telling. Zhanna, Saana’s daughter, heads the mission to search for the missing traders. I do not need to ‘see’ her every footstep, but that is what we get. The expansive world-building continues from The Black Coast. Brooks covers every incident in the ten narrative points of view in minute detail, making for lengthy reading and uneven pacing.
An example of this is the chapters covering Darel’s journey to the capital. Darel and Southern Marshall accompanying him travel by boat, and they encounter pirates. There are eight chapters between the pirates first appearance and their attack on Darel’s ship. In those eight chapters, days pass for the other characters, so when I returned to Darel, all the immediacy was gone.
With that many points of view, it is hard to give the appropriate time to each of them. It can be hard to know who to invest in, and the storylines sometimes end abruptly with no further ramifications. Tila, the sister of the God-King, is charged with murder and is to face trial by combat by officials staging a coup. Once this storyline ends, it isn’t mentioned again. I like Tila, a woman succeeding in a male-oriented world on her own terms, and her events interest me more than others. But I felt her events were concluded too easily and then forgotten. It is the same for the Golden One, who is barely mentioned after being the first book’s primary focus.
The Splinter King continues in the same vein as The Black Coast, with well-rounded characters. The world-building is beautiful with a unique hierarchy and gender structure. But the wealth of characters stretches events a little too thinly, meaning I felt there were too many minor missions and minimal main story action. This leaves me in the same position as when I finished The Black Coast. I liked The Splinter King, but it didn’t blow me away.