The Written by Ben Galley
Review by Floresiensis
Fantasy Book Review Book of the Month, August 2012
His name is Farden. They whisper that he’s dangerous. Dangerous is only the half of it.
Something has gone missing from the libraries of Arfell. Something very old, and something very powerful. Five scholars are now dead, a country is once again on the brink of war, and the magick council is running out of time and options. Entangled in a web of lies and politics and dragged halfway across icy Emaneska and back, Farden must unearth a secret even he doesn’t want to know, a secret that will shake the foundations of his world. Dragons, drugs, magick, death, and the deepest of betrayals await.
I immediately liked this book. I think the word that best describes my initial reading experience would be comfortable. When you read a good fantasy book – or a good book from any genre to be honest – you are able to relax as soon as you pick it up, safe in the knowledge that you are in capable hands and about to follow a story that is sure to allow an enjoyable escape from the real world whilst you are lost within its pages. Every David Gemmell book did – and still does – this for me, so did The Written. Ben Galley is not yet as good an author as Gemmell but the thing that I find exciting is that I honestly think that he could be.
I read a lot of fantasy books and they come from three main sources: the major publishers, the independent publishers and the self-published. With the books that Random House, Harper Collins, Pan Macmillan et al send out you are guaranteed a certain level of quality. With the independent and self-published you take more of a risk but all readers/reviewers will agree that there is nothing quite like finding a hidden gem, albeit unpolished and in its rarest form, but a book turns out to be a little bit special. And Galley’s The Written is a little gem, unpolished certainly but with such potential.
When Ben Galley first got in touch his email stood out from the crowd (any struggling to get their work reviewed take note). First off the email showed the book cover at its finest and I absolutely loved it (if the book is anything like as good as the cover, I thought, we are on to a winner here) and then there was the email itself, well-worded, concise and to-the-point. I cannot stress how important this is, the initial contact 99% of the time reflects the product that is in need of review. I have had review requests that contain typos, incorrect casing, many that are obviously either sent en-masse or by an author who has not put the necessary effort in. Ben Galley’s email looked good, read well and didn’t waste anybody’s time – it was an email that impressed and deserved a positive response. I expected Mr. Galley’s work to have been painstakingly checked and to be as good as he could possible make it without the services of a major publisher, and that is pretty much what I did indeed find.
Now don’t get me wrong, The Written is not perfect, nor is it one of the very best débuts ever written, and I found that metaphors were a little overused. What it is though is a well-written, interesting and enjoyable fantasy book that is at times excellent. But above all it is a book that shows an author at the beginning of a writing career that might well produce something even more special in the future. The overall story arc is strong, featuring an anti-hero, a man neither overly good or evil, simply human and thereby flawed. The narrative is good, the dialougue decent and the characterisation good. But of course there were also things that didn’t work for me, I would have been happier for the pace to have calmed a times, thus allowing for more characterisation and back-story. And for some strange reason the overuse of the word “smirked” annoyed me. But these are small criticisms and when viewed as a whole The Written is deserving of both admiration and recommendation. My enthusiastic review is due to fact that there is something there; some of the ideas are wonderful, such as how the mages’ receive and use their power, and some of the locations are well realised with the Arkathedral’s being a brilliant invention.
But the thing that has me most excited is that I can only see Galley improving book by book. Often I read a book and know that no matter how many others I read by the same author the output is going to be pretty much the same but I sense that this is an author on a mission to be as good as he can possibly be. I hope that this review can help in some small way on this journey and my only advice would be to not get stuck in too many trilogies as I think it can stymie growth. The other advice I would offer is to read Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy strips out everything unnecessary to the story, anything that does not serve a purpose and I think 99% of authors would benefit from following the same procedure. If it doesn’t further the story, or develop an essential character or location, then maybe it simply shouldn’t be included. Less really can be more.
I thought The Written a very good début an I would recommend it to fans of Gemmell, Hobb and those who enjoy tales of magic and dragons. As I have previously mentioned I am greatly looking forward to following this author’s career as I can’t see any reason why his output should not get better with each offering. And just look at the cover, great isn’t it?
Miles Hanney from England
I have read the Written and I thought it was a good book. I enjoyed every page. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series.
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