WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL
by Marc Turner
Chronicles of the Exile Book 1
3 / 5 stars.
WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL is an intriguing new sword and sorcery fantasy from British author Marc Turner. I mean, it’s really only new by the fact that I hadn’t read it. Otherwise, the book’s about two-and-a-half years on the shelves, but let’s move past that. I picked it up at the library last month, so this is the best kind of review—a free one.
I had absolutely no expectations starting WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL. I’d never heard of it, nor the author. I read a couple pages, liked what I saw and was intrigued by the world, the characters—at least at first. But once I got down to serious reading, I started to struggle. But we’ll get back to that.
Like a classic fantasy tale, WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL begins with a quest. An ancient and powerful artifact—a book—called “The Book of Lost Souls”, has been stolen. The perpetrator, a rogue mage, Mayot Mencada, has retrieved the book from the god of death—Shroud—and retreated to the Forest of Sighs where he can study the book and build his power. But all actions (at least, all diabolical ones) have consequences. The four POVs arise from the theft, all pulled together by the web that bound them. First Ebon—the crown prince to a kingdom bordering the forest—has had spirits trapped in his head for years. For a time, their effect had diminished, but lately, they had begun to reemerge in his mind. Romany—the high priestess of a god called the Spider—has been recruited by her deity to help Mencada read the book, which is protected by powerful magics. The Spider, who has her own agenda in the matter, also orchestrated the book’s disappearance. Lurker—the former guardian (of what never really became clear) with an awesome name—is tasked with seeking out Mencada and retrieving the book for his Emperor. Well, not exactly his emperor. But when Lurker finds Mencada, he will also find his absent mentor. Parolla—a young necromancer with a grudge against Shroud—seeks the book for her own reasons, to further her own aims. They are all present on the same web, pulled together as the plot unfolds. Together, they will resolve the story—one way or another.
Unlike most fantasy books I’ve read, WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL does not dedicate its chapters to a single POV character. Instead, the POV bounces between the four through the entirety of the book. This made for strange and uneven pacing, especially at first. The world of The Chronicles of the Exile is bright and beautiful. The snapshots we see of it at first are highly detailed and even sublime in its intricacy. And yet this is all they are. Snapshots. Since no POV holds its own chapter, the plot jumps around too much for the world to come together—until much, much later. In fact, The Forest of Sighs and its surrounding area alone is well-rendered, the rest off the world obscured by a bank of fog, with only intermittent glimpses peeking through. It reeks a bit of Landfall from the Erebus Sequence by Den Patrick. Highly detailed and ambitious, but incredibly limited in scope and size of the world portrayed. If you haven’t read this, I’m sorry. It’d be like describing Hogwarts, or Gondor, but covering the rest of the world around it in fog. You could see a few things outside the scope but only if you’re right in front of them and have a controlled POV narrating the story at that point. Anyway, while I did finally get past this pacing, it took a couple hundred pages of inconsistent reading, and a lot more time than I felt it should.
And yet the plot—as each POV controls their own piece—tends to move along inconsistently. I never really became invested in Romany’s thread until near the end. Lurker I found interesting yet there was never enough of it in the first half, jut snippets of his journey until reaching the world near the Forest of Sighs. Ebon and Parolla had their own ups and downs, but by the halfway point three of them picked up quite nicely.
That said, after the 200-250 or so pages, the pace picked up considerably. The plot starts rolling here as well. The conclusion—the last 150 or so—I LOVED. But it was the rest that really controlled my opinion of it. WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL is ambitious, an entrance into a highly detailed world. What I see smacks of Joe Abercrombie, Robert Jordan, and John Gwynne. All authors of broad, expansive worlds that I loved. Marc Turner’s creation falls short of these talents through his first offering alone, but at this time he has an additional two books out, both set in the same world. Though I really struggled at first, WHEN THE HEAVENS FALL was an interesting fantasy read. If you’re used to stories with a slow build, this is something you should definitely consider. If not, you may get lost before the plot turns around.
I’ve heard the second offering is a better read than the first, and look forward to reading it. I’m thinking 3 / 5 stars. It was okay, but the second is in fact better, so there’s more reason to start the series.