The Ranger of Marzanna by Jon Skovron (The Goddess War: Book 1)
The Ranger of Marzanna was a highly anticipated read for me. The back-of-the-book blurb, referencing ancient sects of warriors, siblings on opposite sides of a conflict, and powerful sorcerers, is basically everything that could get me excited. Couple this with a Russia-inspired setting, and it has all the ingredients for a book that I’m highly likely to enjoy. Unfortunately, in the end, those elements didn’t come together for me.
Even in a novel that didn’t end up working for me in the end, there are often elements that I did enjoy and that - for others - might make all the difference. For The Ranger of Marzanna those elements that I enjoyed are headlined by the world building. Not only is the world building interesting, and inspired by a real world setting that doesn’t get as much attention in fantasy as it might, but the prose and descriptions are used wonderful effect. This is a wintery, cold world - though there are scenes where that isn’t the case, and Skovron’s descriptions made me feel cold as I read, or warm alternatively. This part of the story was extremely well done. I also thoroughly enjoyed the magic. While it is primarily an elemental based magic system, there were interesting twists and costs to the magic and I appreciated those touches. For me, the magic system hung together well and I wouldn’t have minded even more of it.
As for what didn’t work for me, that list is a bit longer and also more integral to the book. To begin, the characters - especially the two main characters - ended up being entirely unlikeable for me. For some readers this won’t be an issue, but when I’m reading I feel like I need at least someone I connect with in some way. Even if I don’t agree with their actions, I need to understand and empathize with them at some level. These characters were not only unlikeable to me, but I never really understood their motivations. This frustrated me to no end as I was reading. Sonya was perhaps a bit more understandable than Sebastian. But she had an added complication of feeling like an incredible, perhaps almost super human warrior in some scenes and then in others normal, even bordering on ineffectual. I could not discern any reason for the difference beyond perhaps plot expedience. For me, characters are one of the most important aspects of any story, and not understanding their motivations, not liking them, and finding one inconsistently powerful resulted in a disappointing reading experience. Added to that, many of the side characters felt almost completely forgettable to me. The plot, while interesting, suffered from the lack of clear character motivations. It made it hard for me to care what was really going on. There were also times when the dialog felt stilted, or perhaps overly formal. At other times it included too much explanation to the point where it felt unnatural.
The Ranger of Marzanna had a lot of potential. For me, it didn’t live up to it. However, others may find that their mileage varies. Interesting world building and cool magic wasn’t enough to make up for the significant flaws in this one.
Review by Calvin Park
The Ranger of Marzanna reader reviews
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