Saran’s Battle by Beth Locke

This book is a straightforward adventure about a stubborn princess named Saran, a dashing rogue named Dash, and a handful of other characters caught up in an endless war over two halves of a magic amulet. There’s nothing wrong with this setup, but the use of stock characters and a bland setting make this book an unremarkable foray into fantasy that doesn’t bring anything new to the table.

I’m going to spend a good bit of time on running through the characters, more than I usually would, because they’re a collection of stock characters that tend to get used to death.

First, none of the characters have enough depth to make them interesting, and the author outright tells the reader everything about them. The two villains usually look at people evilly. Or grin maliciously. Or randomly rape, murder, or torture people because they’re evil. About the only thing they don’t do is grow moustaches and diabolically twirl them whenever they speak.

Uninteresting villains are enough to cripple a book on their own, but there’s nothing remarkable about the heroes to salvage the story either. First, there’s Saran. She’s a stubborn princess who wants people to take her seriously. Then there’s Dash, a dashing rogue. He and Saran fall in love.

On the other side of the divide, you have Prince Terrin, who is the epitome of all that is good and noble. Then there’s his brother Peter, who likes raping, torturing, murdering, and brutalizing underage girls. Because he was born an evil twit. And for course he grins, leers, and abuses his way through the book. Then there’s Rose, their sister, who serves two purposes: to be part of a Romeo and Juliet plot, and to be someone for Terrin to protect and for Peter to threaten to beat and rape.

To be clear, Peter is the sort of villain that, even when written well, I have a lot of trouble reading and enjoying. It’s one of the reasons I can’t really enjoy anything Terry Goodkind writes. If you’ve read it, you know what I mean.

Then there’s Calla, who is recognized as a monster by pretty much everyone in the world. Her reasons for being evil: she was told she has a destiny, and she’s ambitious. The problem I have with this character is that, as stated, she’s so absolutely uncharismatic and vicious that her belief she’s destined to unite the world is laughable. The other problems I have with Calla in particular deal with the setting as a whole.

First, a quick summary of the setting: the world was split into four quadrants, there was some ancient war stuff, and half the world got destroyed. The other half got divided into two chunks, with a no man’s land in the middle where the two kingdoms were supposed to tear each other apart until a victor arose. So, it’s basically infinite war governed by a strict set of rules, and whoever gets both halves of some amulet thing wins. I get the distinct impression that the ancients who set this up were more jerkish than wise.

Note that the war, and the world itself, is supposed to be governed by a strict, arbitrary system of rules that everyone takes for granted. This could be interesting, but the way it plays out, namely via Calla’s actions, really didn’t sit well with me. Calla is one of those villains who, rather than being smart, has the power of deus ex machina.

She breaks the fundamental rules of the war that’s been going on for five hundred years, and the only thing that happens is some stuff glows red. That’s it. In a setting where so much emphasis gets placed on unbreakable rules handed down by the ancients, the fact that there’s nary a consequence to be found the moment a villain breaks them guts one of the central premises of the setting. Additionally, Calla gets injected with enough drugs to kill an elephant, but, because she has no-rules-apply-here powers, of course she just keeps trucking on. To me, this kind of villain has always been more frustrating than compelling.

Another issue with the book is that the author constantly tells the reader who the characters are and what they’re thinking. This is something I tend to harp on, but the use of adverbs and adjectives that explicitly state mental states saps a lot of the mystery out of a novel. Couple that with long paragraphs in which characters explain what they’re thinking and the sort of changes they’re going through, and there’s nothing left to the imagination. This pretty much guarantees that even potentially interesting characters are devoid of the necessary intrigue to engage a reader.

My final criticism is that the book doesn’t have a proper ending. Instead, it ends on a cliffhanger that leaves absolutely nothing resolved. I understand that when a book is intended to be part of a series, not everything will get neatly wrapped up at the end of any given book. Each book, however, should have a complete story that’s part of a larger whole, so that the reader has a sense of finality.

A book isn’t like a TV show that airs every week. The TV show (except for between seasons and the like) ideally delivers content in reasonable intervals that prevents the viewers from becoming frustrated. Books don’t have that luxury, and even with a quick turnover it takes a substantial amount of time to write and polish the next book.

In short, this book is a stock fantasy novel with plain characters, an uninteresting world, and a plot that does little more than tread down a familiar path. The writing isn’t bad, but it does little to elevate the rest of the book. I give it a 2/5.

If you want to take a gander, you can find it on Amazon here.

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2 thoughts on “Saran’s Battle by Beth Locke

  1. You made a small mistake, although they do become friends Dash and Saran do not fall in love. She actual becomes attracted to Keenen in the story.

  2. Beth Beth Beth. What were you thinking? Names are words. Even if they’re nonsense words, they have sounds. You have to consider homonyms, combinations, whole names versus partial names, and ask yourself, “Am I setting this character up for ridicule?” Consider that poor child of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Shiloh Jolie-Pitt. Now, sure, Shiloh is a fine name, and–as long as no one EVER drops the hyphenated addition of her maternal surname, she’ll be fine. Sadly, for simple verbal efficiency, in day-to-day discussions, maternal hyphenations get elided. That means this poor innocent child will one-day be called–by teachers, by other students, and (because of who her parents are) journalists, magazine writers, bloggers–SHILOH PITT. If you still don’t see the problem, say the name aloud.

    So, sorry, Beth, but I just can’t get past those names: Saran and Dash. Saran? Is her last name Wrap? Should we presume she never gets away with anything because she’s so transparent? And, yeah, as you said: Dash is “a dashing rogue.” Of course he is. God help him if his full name is actually Dash N. Rogue.

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