Verdict: Saddled with an unlikable protagonist and too much world-building, STARWATCHER struggles to deliver a fantasy epic.
David Rice’s STARWATCHER is the first novel in his HALF-ELVEN series, about the adventures of a half-elven child born to young human stargazer, Muren and his elven sorcerer mentor, Alandris. Despite that, STARWATCHER picks up a peculiar place to begin. Set after the end of Muren and Alandris’ tragic love story (which would have made for a fine prequel) it nevertheless takes place years before their daughter, Kirsten, grows up to become a protagonist herself. Because of this, STARWATCHER mostly plays out as a prolonged set up to a tale that hasn’t even really started yet.
Thanks to J. R. R. Tolkien and his ilk, modern fantasy has a number of well-used tropes. Nature-loving elves, stout dwarves, wise wizards and savage orcs are popular because readers know and love them. STARWATCHER uses these tropes effectively. Unfortunately, a good chunk of the novel focuses on world-building, explaining the nuances of politics and economics in a fictional kingdom. This makes STARWATCHER a kind of novel that will appeal to die-hard fans of the fantasy genre and tabletop role-playing games, but may not interest the casual reader.
STARWATCHER isn’t helped by the fact that its main character is really obnoxious. Muren begins the story as a spoiled, selfish brat. Several characters tell that to his face throughout the novel, yet Muren ends his misadventures pretty much unchanged. Although sadly true to life, this doesn’t really make for a satisfactory reading. Many of the supporting characters are similarly unlikable: there are vain noblemen, superstitious peasants, hypocritical priests, duplicitous gnomes and isolationist elves. Such cynical worldview in a fantasy setting is interesting at first, but quickly grows tiresome as most of these characters remain one-dimensional.
On the bright side, it is also among these supporting characters that we find protagonists worthy of a story. There’s Helba, an orphaned priestess torn between her duties and her conscience. There’s Balinor, a gruff yet kind-hearted forest hunter. There’s the tough, no-nonsense Duke Arundy. And then there’s mysterious Raisha, a mute dancer from distant lands who teaches Muren how to use magic without killing himself.
There’s actually a fun fantasy adventure hidden in STARWATCHER. Too bad that the novel plays out as a prequel for another, more interesting story. Hopefully, David Rice will deliver a payoff in the sequel and thus redeem STARWATCHER.
~Danijel Striga for IndieReader