Title: Child of a Mad God
Author: R.A. Salvatore
Series: Coven #1
Rating: 4.5/5 stars
The Overview: When Aoleyn loses her parents, she is left to fend for herself among a tribe of vicious barbarians. Bound by rigid traditions, she dreams of escaping to the world beyond her mountain home. The only hope for achieving the kind of freedom she searches for is to learn how to wield the mysterious power used by the tribe’s coven known as the Song of Usgar. Thankfully, Aoleyn may be the strongest witch to have ever lived, but magic comes at price. Not only has her abilities caught the eye of the brutish warlord that leads the tribe, but the demon of the mountain hunts all who wield the Coven’s power, and Aoleyn’s talent has made her a beacon in the night. -Goodreads
I’ve been reading (and enjoying) R.A. Salvatore for almost 20 years, so what struck me as profound during Child of a Mad God was how well-rounded a writer he has evolved into. He was always an accomplished storyteller, but compared to his early works in the world of Corona (published in the late 1990s) it’s immediately clear how next-level his work has become. Child of a Mad God was superbly written and I don’t have a single critical thing to say about any craft-related aspect of this book – it was excellent.
I didn’t realize this book was part of the Corona world until I was about halfway through. Even though I’ve only read two other Corona books (Demon Awakens and Demon Spirit), Child of a Mad God felt self-contained enough to be read on its own. It will transport you to an isolated, indigenous landscape, and set a mood that is almost otherworldly in its delivery. There were a few minor characters (including an unknown (to me) POV in what I call the “Drizzt letter” at the beginning of every part) that felt a little like cameos from previous books and made me feel like I was missing a bit of historical depth. But none of them had any direct impact on the main story. I’m actually looking forward to reading the backlist in this series to find out if we really have seen these characters before.
The main POV characters had so much depth that it sort of took me off guard. I wasn’t expecting to have so much emotion pulled out of me, and that introspection is probably the strongest element of the story. He really digs into the motives and carnal wants of these characters, which slowed the pacing considerably even though it still had a lot of impact. As I touched on already, the world building was fantastic. It was totally immersive into this culture without ever dwelling on the mundane aspects of their daily lives. Instead, it focused 100% on the things that made the plot special. Even though it was slower, not a single page was wasted.
So, while I absolutely loved all of the elements I usually rate books on (writing, characters, world building, etc.), I need to be honest about my general enjoyment-level of the book. You see, it’s pretty brutal. It often danced on the edge of what I can tolerate (take this with a grain of salt because I’m the first to admit that I’m a wimp), meaning a lot of my reading experience involved an odd juxtaposition of loving it but absolutely hating the awful things that happened within it. Even so, from an analytical standpoint, I can appreciate how those brutal moments helped raise the stakes for the story and really ground the reader in this unforgivable society. By no means is it a happy story, but it’s certainly a compelling one. I usually need a strong ray of hope to keep me engaged in books, which Child of a Mad God was pointedly lacking. I yearned for vindication for these characters and was rewarded with a punch to the gut every time. Even so, the potential for satisfaction in future books is what has me eager to continue the series.
Recommendations: I’d hand this book to fantasy readers who often list “good characters” as their main criteria, but it also fits the bill for excellent world-building and beautiful writing. If you can stomach indigenous brutality and slower pacing, Child of a Mad God is a great pick for you. I felt it stands alone well enough that you don’t have to have read previous Corona books to enjoy it, but that’s speaking from someone who doesn’t yet know quite what she’s missing. :)
I’d like to thank R.A. Salvatore and the publicists at TOR/Forge for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of Child of a Mad God! :)
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