Crossing Mother's Grave by Jake Elliot is the second book in the Heretic series and the follow up to Elliot's debut novel The Wrong Way Down. I did enjoy The Wrong Way Down and was curious to see where Elliot was going with the series, but Crossing Mother's Grave didn't quite meet my expectations. Elliot will need to lift his game for the third book.
The story begins immediately following the events of The Wrong Way down, with priestess Popalia and her mismatched troupe of adventurers hot on the trail of the relic thieves having narrowly escaped their confines in the burning Regulator fort. When it becomes apparent that their quarry has been captured by orcs and imprisoned underground, Popalia leads the party deep into the maze of caverns, banking on a combination of luck, skill and divine will. Though they have little trouble finding their quarry, and though the orcs provide fierce opposition, they are unprepared for the horrors that call these caverns home.
In terms of story, we do not get a great deal of plot progression and world building. It is simple, it is to the point, and it allows the action sequences to take centre stage. About 75% of the book is set in the dark tunnels, reading like one big chase where they are harried from behind and have no idea where going forward will take them. I think this is a good idea, but the action sequences are too few and far between. This isn't an exact measure, but it felt like almost 50% of the book made up of dialogue, walking or resting sequences. There was a lot of long winded dialogue, and I found it hard to maintain my interest on the stretches between action sequences.
In terms of characterisation, we got quite a bit of it which was an improvement on The Wrong Way Down. I felt like I got to know the characters a lot better, I felt like they all had separate personalities and motivations, and I came to like Popalia a lot more than the bratty girl she was in the first book. I'm not in love with these characters, but I am happy that they are no longer caricatures of Dungeons and Dragons roles and races. I think the next step for Elliot will be to find a way to make his characters endearing or at least more relatable.
In summary, Crossing Mother's Grave takes more steps backwards than it does forwards from The Wrong Way Down. There are moments of great writing in there, and technically the prose was consistently of a higher quality (barely any typos or grammatical errors compared to the first book), but I had a really hard time engaging with the story and rarely did I feel moments of tension, suspense, or elation. Elliot is a good writer who has some obvious natural talents, but he needs to work on refining his plot progression and dialogue. Hopefully he can address these issues and bounce back for book three.
Review by Ryan Lawler
1 positive reader review(s) for Crossing Mother’s Grave
Sometimes the right way turns all wrong. I saw his body lying there. My teacher, my mentor, my friend - face down in a pool of his own blood. His white robes were starched [...]
Candice from United States
I disagree with Mr. Lawler's review. I found Crossing Mother's Grave to be quite suspenseful. He mentions the group fleeing from Orcs whilst running through pitch dark underground caverns, not knowing where they are heading. In my mind, that IS suspenseful. The dialogue Mr. Lawler finds so cumbersome helps develop the characters, and sets up group dynamics. I came to appreciate Popalia much more, and grew ever more fond of other characters as well. You can read my original review of Crossing Mother's Grave here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/459584720
7.5/10 from 2 reviews