ARCH ENEMIES (Mania.com)
Review Date: Monday, October 08, 2007
The fantasy debut novel from Michael Ventrella, Arch Enemies spins an enjoyable yarn that, although entertaining, barely manages to skirt the amateurish.
Terin Ostler, a self-confessed coward, is a traveling bard in the city of Ashbury. His sheltered life comes to an end, however, when he is suddenly brought before the Duke one night and informed of a mysterious prophecy. Without offering any explanations, this prophecy has apparently named Terin as the one to save the Duchy from the return of an ancient enemy.
Almost a thousand years ago the warring Thessi tried to exert their dominion over all. Descended from gryphons, these warriors captured or killed with the aid of powerful telepathic abilities. To stop the onslaught the people of the land banded together and fought back, but it wasn’t until a ritual encased the marauding army in a time hiccup that Ashbury was truly safe. Unfortunately the ritual, which focused its power on a rune-encrusted arch, wasn’t carried out perfectly and now the Thessi are trying to break free once again.
Though Terin has no idea what part he has to play in fending off the Thessi, the Duke is quite adamant that he join the team to reseal the arch as per the prophecy’s instructions. Along with squires Rendal and Darlissa, Terin makes his way to the arch and begins to enjoy the life of a hero… until the Duke’s own men try to kill him. The trio are now running for their lives, and re-evaluating who exactly they can trust.
One thing about Arch Enemies I couldn’t quite get over is the fact that the author commits the unwritten no-no of writing in the first person. Now I’m not a stickler for the traditional norms of storytelling, but in this case writing solely through the perspective of Terin limits not only our view of Ventrella’s world but, more importantly, also limits our insight into his characters. Even Terin himself, though we spend the entire novel in his head, could have been better fleshed out if glimpsed through multiple lenses.
What does work is Ventrella’s conception of an entirely new race. Yes the old fantasy stereotypes are all still here (goblins, elves, dwarves, etc.) but with the addition of the biata, a feathered people who refreshingly aren’t just a recycling of the aforementioned genre archetypes. This is good because in many ways the biata need to work, since the plot is based so heavily on their history.
Despite the rather patchwork beginning of events in Arch Enemies, a late twist lends the entire novel a surprisingly tight narrative. A good portion of the book is still a bit aimless at times, and the story’s pacing never quite builds to a crescendo of rising action, yet the novel does maintain a flow of sorts.
Arch Enemies is by no means the making of an epic, but it is an agreeable first outing into a new fantasy world. For more information about Michael Ventrella and his work check out the author’s homepage at: http://www.michaelaventrella.com/.
Mania Grade: C+
Author: Michael A. Ventrella
Publisher: Double Dragon Publishing