I've been reading The Black God's War by Moses Siregar III, and I find myself strangely unenthralled. I say strangely because Siregar is undeniably a very skilled author. It's clear that he really knows what he's doing. It just doesn't work for me.
On the face of it it's a pretty cool story. There's a war with the survival of an entire civilization at stake. There are mages and clerics with intense personal stakes. There's rich allegory, and a wonderful lack of cliche. If you know your Greek mythology you'll find familiar concepts here, but it's all refreshingly new at the same time.
The book has much to like and much to recommend it. Epic battles, magic of a sort you've never seen before, the complete absence of Tolkein-esque, D&D-derived, tired old story elements. And all of it is told in lovely, engaging prose that's entirely free of newbie-writer mistakes and clumsiness.
In most of my reviews I find myself saying that the author could use an editor, or a proofreader, or both. Not Siregar. This is an author who knows exactly what he's doing. You don't have to look past the unpolished writing to enjoy the story. The writing, like the story itself, is meticulously crafted. Every phrase contributes to the mood, the impact of a scene.
So why don't I like it?
Two things troubled me, and I want to be clear that both things are a matter of personal taste. First, the point-of-view characters are ivory-tower types. They rule nations, they hobnob directly with gods. At the very least they have a level of education that places them high above the average man. It puts the war at an intellectual distance. I prefer my stories gritty and raw, told from the front lines or somewhere close. I found myself getting bored with the exalted characters and their view from on high.
The second issue I had was with religion. It felt to me as if the characters had a ridiculous, if typical, primitive religion. No more ridiculous than what the ancient Greeks or Egyptians had, but still, not something you can take seriously. The problem is, in this novel, the contradictory, arbitrary, implausible gods are real. I couldn't make myself go along for that journey.
The bottom line is, I didn't like it, but I think it's the kind of book you have to try for yourself. Believe me, I've encountered crap out there that I can tell you unequivocally you don't need to bother with. Not this. Like opera, like chipotle sauce, it's not for everyone, but you can't dismiss it until you try it.
Get it from Amazon or from Smashwords for a buck. Or try the free novella, which is excerpted from the full novel.
The Black God's War at Smashwords.