This book review will also be shared to my new Goodreads page.
Disclosure: This book was a free selection from the Samsung Book Deals monthly offerings for my Note 4 phone.
Consider this review the Conan O'Brien's Clueless Gamer segment of fantasy book reviews. The sci-fi/fantasy literature genre is foreign to me. My only exposure to this genre since high school has been limited to the Dune series and multiple rereads of the Lord of the Rings, the Hobbit, and Chronicles of Narnia. The Harry Potter series is still on my list. With those exceptions, I'm a newbie.
Fantasy readers will presumably enjoy the “Echoes of Empires” trilogy, but opening book The Garden of Stones is not the best jumping off point for readers who are still trying to get into the genre. Well written for what it is, author Mark T. Barnes drops you right in the middle of a complex, unfamiliar world with no introduction or context within reality. In a recent interview, George Lucas described dropping this exact same tactic onto “Star Wars” audiences back in 1977 (and I use a sci-fi analogy only to the extent that Lucas’ universe building is reminiscent of that of fantasy literature). In those films, or at least in the original trilogy, any viewer could enjoy the adventure regardless of the depth of their engagement with the Star Wars universe.
The difference is that the Star Wars universe was populated with characters who were both human and relatable to non-genre fans. In contrast, while reading “The Garden of Stones” I found myself racing to the helpful Cast of Characters appendix quite frequently just to distinguish the names, races, political feuds, wars, and confusing historical eras that were essential to following the narrative.
On that note, it IS possible to enjoy this book without a full grasp of its complex backstory, political intrigue, and small army of oddly-named characters. The action is thrilling (if a bit gory), the pacing is reasonably brisk, and… as morbid as this sounds… it eventually becomes easier to keep everything straight when major characters begin to get killed off to simplify the “cast.”
Barnes is a talented and creative story teller for fantasy genre fans to enjoy. But I will probably not be continuing the “Echoes of Empire” saga with Book 2: The Obsidian Heart. If I DO decide in the future to download Books 2 and 3 for Kindle, it would only be because of the hard work I put into sorting out many of the saga’s complexities. Some payoff for my efforts is at least little tempting.
Although, if I EVER read another one of those endless references to a fantasy character taking a drink from his or her “bowl of wine...”
Bonus for Garth's Blog readers:
Kathy encouraged me to reveal the real reason that I picked out "Garden of Stones": As a sleep aid, to incorporate into my bedtime routine. I didn't have the heart to mention this in my Goodreads review, for fear of crushing Mark T. Barnes' spirit. But it worked.