SPFBO Review: Son of a Dark Wizard, by Sean Patrick Hannifin

As part of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, I’m not obligated to review any title but the one I choose as the best of my batch. However, I figure I’m going to stick to my usual rule when it comes to reviews: if I read it all, it gets a review. If I read it all, that means I considered it good enough to read it at all, rather than giving up partway through because the story or the writing or what have you just wasn’t doing it for me.

Books I review for this will be mostly the same as my usual review format, except that I won’t be rating things out of 5 cups but instead giving a mark out of 10, as per the challenge rules.

Buy from Amazon.com
Rating – 6.5/10
Author’s website
Publication date – January 1, 2015

Summary: Thirteen year old Prince Sorren survived the surprise attack on his castle, but the young wizard’s life is left in ruins. His father’s been assassinated, he was forced to flee his castle, and he lost his left arm. But he’s not about to lose the kingdom his father promised would someday be his. He doesn’t care if his father’s assassin is a boy believed to be the Chosen One, or if the prophecy that foretold his father’s death also calls for his own death at the same boy’s hands. He sets out in search of the boy, ready to battle him face to face.

But the Chosen One keeps a powerful weapon, and Sorren soon learns that even a dark wizard’s powers will not be enough to take his kingdom back.

Thoughts: When Sorren’s father, the tyrant wizard Vonlock, is killed, the battle for succession begins. The Nyrish Council has a tradition that any council member can enter a challenge for Vonlock’s position as head of the council. Tradition also has it that Vonlock’s heir is automatically a council member upon Vonlock’s death. In an attempt to remove Sorren as a threat to their plans, they set him an impossible task as his challenge: defeat the one who killed his father, a boy known only as the Chosen One, whom prophecy dictates will bring about the fall of Vonlock’s legacy.

For a mid-grade novel (which I actually didn’t realise until I started writing this review; I figured it was YA), I have to admit that the story was pretty tight. Hannifin sets up an interesting world, one in which the populace has been under the thumb of a tyrant for a long time and has only just experienced their first taste of freedom. And then along comes this kid who aims to take up his father’s mantle and sit in his throne. The world is a decently fleshed-out one, at least what we see of it, and the pacing is even and it all flows pretty well.

The problem lies in the sheer lack of motivation both Sorren and the Chosen One have. In the Chosen One’s case, he’s a boy prophesied to bring down Vonlock’s entire family, but when he appears on the pages, he seems more like a kid that’s being manipulated by those more powerful and knowledgeable than himself, a figurehead thrust into his position and given the tools to do what people think he should do. We don’t get to see enough of him to know if he has any stronger motivation than, “Someone said I have to, so I have to.”

In Sorren’s case, I’m utterly at a loss. It would be easy to say that he spends the book doing what he does because he was set that task by the Nyrish Council, the conditions he has to achieve in order to attain power. But that only occurs because he insists on taking up the role in the first place, and there’s little reason why. There’s little sign he felt affection for his father, nor some great family tie that would lead him to view all this as his duty. He shows more affection to his friends and advisors, but only so far as they don’t stop him from setting out on his quest. He, much like the Chosen One, seems to be doing everything he does because that’s the role he’s expected to play, but never once do we see any sign that he’s even aware enough to consider that. He just plows on ahead, bent on fulfilling a task that he has no reason to fulfill. He defines himself as “the son of a dark wizard” multiple times, almost by rote, so I can maybe see that this all stems from being told he has to do it, but from where I stand, that’s not exactly sufficient motivation, since all that comes from just reading between the lines.

So the motivations of the two characters that really drive the plot are poorly defined, almost nonexistent, and it comes across like they’re there only because they have to be for a story to be told.

It was, however, easy to forget all that at times. The world Hannifin created is interesting enough to keep me distracted, multi-layered and multi-cultural. True, those layers do often consist of stereotypes common to fantasy, but that’s not always a bad thing. The bare bones may be similar to a dozen other novels, a bit generic, but it’s the flesh that matters, and the world of Son of a Dark Wizard feels strong enough to stand on its own feet, without being compared to another novel’s ‘verse.

Honestly, when I finished this book my first thought was that I would love to see this world expanded. It was a short read, not even 200 pages, and since it felt a lot more like YA than mid-grade (at least to me), I felt that some things were done a disservice — for instance, the lack of motivations I mentioned previously. Sorren didn’t read as though he was only 13; he came across as older than that, mid-to-late teens, so with that viewpoint in mind, I had it in my head that this book needed to be longer, more detailed, expanded and redone. Not because it was bad and had so many flaws to address, but because it was good, and I wanted to see more. Putting on my pseudo-agent hat, that’s what I’d likely recommend. Good story, needs some editing and revision, please resubmit if you ramp it up a notch.

This isn’t a book I necessarily would have picked up and read as my own choice, but it’s one that I did enjoy reading as part of this project. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s still a decent read, a quick adventure through a new land that offers things you don’t see elsewhere. Sorren lies somewhere between hero and anti-hero, a protagonist in shades of grey. The story relied on the prophecy as a catalyst for the story rather than letting the characters really do it themselves, but for all that, it was still decent, and Hannifin’s clear and vivid writing did a lot to bring the rest of the world to life and provide the interest that couldn’t be provided by the prophecy’s drive itself. Not the most original, but definitely decent.

(If you want to read this for yourself, it’s currently free through Amazon.com.)

8 comments on “SPFBO Review: Son of a Dark Wizard, by Sean Patrick Hannifin

  1. Lack of motivation can be a real problem as it creates a type of disconnect between the character and the reader. To understand, relate or empathize with a character you really need to understand what is driving or motivating them. Great review.

    • Yeah. It seemed at times it was just a given that he was doing things because the Council had set him the task, without remembering that they only set him the task because he was challenging for head of the council. Because reasons, I guess. It never really went any deeper than that.

  2. Nice review – sorry I missed this one – I’m enjoying seeing what every one is making of their books. This sounds okay but maybe just not developed enough.
    Lynn :D

  3. Pingback: March in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

  4. Pingback: SPFBO musings | Bibliotropic

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