Red Season Rising by D M Murray

Rating 6.7/10
A fast-paced, intriguing and promising dark fantasy debut.

After an assassination attempt, Kalfinar and his cousin, Broden head to Carta to advise of the news and seek out doctors along the way for Kalfinar's shoulder is injured. Little do they know what awaits them. One god is rising, the others are asleep and only a handful of people can save the country from the oncoming horror. The red season is rising, and Kalfinar will need all his willpower to face what's to come. Haunted by his past, constantly fighting with his need for jalsinum - a drug similar to opium - and dealing with his guilt, he is far from the perfect person to lead the quest he had been sent to accomplish. Of course, he and his companions are hindered here and there, and more than one dead body litters the city grounds after them and even more awaits at the end of the road.

There are three main plotlines in Red Season Rising we follow through several characters eyes. To begin, we have Kalfinar, the soldier, ex-addict, broken man without much hope in his life, aided by loyal friends and family. D.M. Murray obviously spent a lot of time fleshing him out and he is the most developed character in this book. It's hard to decide if you want to root for him or slap him and advise him to stop being a self-pitying fool. Another character who was also pretty well-developed is Thaskil, the young lieutenant who finds himself with a burden he might not be able to bear although he proves himself wiser than his years might suggest. So many things are happening throughout the book, that supporting characters don't seem to have enough space to really shine and show their depth and therefore remain a bit flat and one dimensional.

As for the writing, now, that needs some improvement. The battle scenes at the end are very well written and keep you on the edge of your seat. Actually, all the battle scenes are well paced and engaging and this aspect of the book will be very well received. However, it felt like some of the plot lines weren't well thought out. It probably would have been better to split this book into two and give more space to the quest, to explain the conflict between the gods and their relationship with humans (the Priestess and the Master God for example), to give place to the prophecy's significance to really sink in. Oh, and explore the cities they visit, Enulin and Narbuuk. Both of them have different vibes surrounding them, one Asian-esque and the other is Mediterranean-like. Sadly we only get glimpses of them. Despite the obvious obstacles, it felt like it was too easy to tackle the quest, and in one case the meeting with a side character was too convenient to be believable. I mean, you broke into a home, and 10 minutes later you are chatting over a cup of tea sharing important information with each other. I could not see that happening. Although this quest was important, the way Murray wove the story it came across more like an inconvenience they had to rush through so the real bloodshed could begin.

I found it hard to wrap my mind around the whole Dajda's Horn and Anulii concept and honestly can't see how this is going to work out. The cryptic conversations between characters about the next step didn't help things, and would have lost my temper in Kalfinar's place, because the three brothers didn't make sense. Also, why did Olmat send a small piece of skin with Kalfinar which is never mentioned again? And why does Kalfinar has the abilities he has? There is one more plotline which ended abruptly and we never learned what happened after that. Hopefully the second book will hold some answers for that. And it won't be full of the phrase: "such was the". For some reasons I found that pretty annoying.

On the other hand, Murray's prose can be quite poetic at places. The writing lets us get a glimpse into the characters thoughts so we can gain a better picture of them. The returning rhythm which appears throughout the book accentuates Kalfinar's character and his change pretty well.

"Smoke and blood, whores and mud."

He has the skill to portray emotions and give really picturesque descriptions, like Kalfinar's dreams or like this one:

"His scarred face split in an ugly smile, revealing his rotting teeth, blackened headstones in a graveyard of a mouth."

Also, he manages to surprise the readers with twists hard to see coming and thus keep them reading on.

Red Season Rising is the debut novel of D.M. Murray, and as such, has a few flaws and leaves a lot of places for improvement. It is an ambitious first book of a new epic fantasy series and probably will appeal to many fantasy readers who love well composed battles and characters who aren't all that perfect themselves. And while it's fairly well written, I just didn't feel as engaged as I should have. To be fair, I don't think it's the book's fault altogether. I'm learning that some epic fantasy and especially those with lengthy battle scenes aren't always my thing at the moment.

Overall, Red Season Rising is a fast-paced, intriguing and promising dark fantasy debut. Maybe it's not perfect, and maybe not everyone will like it, but it has the potential to be epic. It has a ruthless, cruel villain you'll love to hate, a main character who fights with addiction while trying to keep his head clear, and side characters whom you might find liking. The red season is rising, and your soul is at stake. You better pray to Dajda to keep you safe until her children come to embrace you.

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